So you’ve fueled correctly before practice or a game – and as time ticks by, that fuel source empties out. Regardless of the sport, this happens to all athletes.

How you eat during competition can have far-reaching impacts, so knowing the best practices is critical for any athlete striving for optimal results.

Why properly refueling during competition is so important

To maintain your energy levels and stay at your peak potential, you need to think about what foods you should have during practice and competition. The wrong food choices can have a similar impact as they do prior to sports activity: you can end up sluggish and with digestion issues.

But did you also know that your risk of becoming injured can increase when you become fatigued? Eating the right foods during competition has a huge added benefit of helping to prevent injuries. By incorporating the best practices, you can stay sharp, energized, and in proper form for your sport.

Best practices for eating during competition

You have to be pretty selective about what you eat during competition. You really don’t have time to eat and digest something like a bagel sandwich during halftimes or in between games. During exercise, you have less blood flowing to your stomach so your body is not able to digest food as well. Refueling during exercise has to be done with foods and beverages that can be digested quickly and sent directly to your muscles.

Here are some foods to always avoid during competition:

  • Greasy foods like burgers, fries, chicken fingers
  • Doughnuts, pastries, biscuits
  • Pork sausage, bacon
  • Cheese
  • Large amounts of candy
  • High fiber foods
  • Beans
  • Sugar alcohols, found in sugar free gum and sugar free candy
  • Any food that causes stomach distress for you

So what foods should you eat?

Sports products like energy gels and gummies are easy to digest and provide quick fuel to your muscles. Sports beverages are also a quick source of energy because they are liquid carbohydrate.

Important! Many people worry about a sugar spike and a sugar crash from sports beverages. Any spike in glucose or insulin prior to exercise does not last long and does not harm performance when exercise begins. It is helpful to understand that exercise causes an increase in the hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine, and growth hormone, and these hormones inhibit the release of insulin, which prevents a reduction in blood glucose, or a “sugar crash”.

Learn more about sugar in sports drinks here >>

Some sports have natural breaks, such as halftimes or a break between games, where you’re able to eat a few small bites of foods that contain carbohydrates and digest quickly. Foods that each individual can tolerate during activity may vary, so experiment with foods during long workouts.

Foods you might choose during breaks in play include:

  • A few bites of a banana or other fruit
  • A few bites of an energy bar
  • Small PBJ bites
  • Dry cereal
  • Pretzels
  • Energy gels

Combine these with a little water or sports beverage.

For more ideas see: The Energy Bag and Healthy Snacks Shopping List

Not the time for protein

Protein foods are not the best choice during activity because they do not quickly refuel your body. You should turn to carbohydrate-type foods that will digest quickly. So even though many tout protein bars as beneficial, these don’t work during competition.

One more point – and this is a big one. In addition to eating the right foods for quick energy during activity, you need to stay hydratedHydration is critical for energy maintenance, and if you fail to hydrate, you will struggle to play at your peak potential.

Now you know what you need to do to eat right during competition. Use this knowledge to gain the edge over your competition!

Tracy Owens

About Tracy Owens

Tracy Owens (MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN) is a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She has worked in private practice, providing clinical and sports nutrition for over 20 years. Her two sons and two daughters have played AAU baseball, USSSA baseball, Legion baseball, Challenge, United, Premier, Elite and ECNL soccer at Capital Area Soccer League (CASL), USTA tennis, summer swim teams, and high school football, swimming, baseball and soccer. Two of her children played Division 1 soccer at North Carolina State University.

Change Your Nutrition and Change Your Game!