Pre-Exercise Meal

ExitCare ImageA pre-exercise meal is the meal that one chooses to eat before training or competition. This meal has the ability to affect performance. The nutrients in your pre-exercise meal will sustain your energy throughout your training session or competition. Eating the correct types of foods can optimize your performance. Pre-exercise meals will differ for every athlete. In planning this meal consider any special health issues, such as:

  • Hypoglycemia.

  • Runner's diarrhea.

All pre-exercise meals should include:

  • Complex carbohydrates.

  • An adequate amount of fluid.

The caloric intake should reflect the amount of time between the meal and the competition. Meals that are consumed 3 to 4 hours before competition should have a higher caloric content than those eaten 1 to 2 hours before competition. Also if the competition lasts for more than 1 hour you may want to consider eating more carbohydrates during the event and not rely solely on the pre-exercise meal. If a pre-exercise meal has too few calories, then you may become hungry and performance may decline.


Fiber Content: Fiber is important for the digestive tract. If the pre-exercise meal contains foods that are too high in fiber, then the athlete may have abdominal pain, nausea, or bloating. The greater the exercise intensity, the more likely this is to occur.

Sodium Content: Sodium is a mineral that helps the body maintain fluid balance. During shorter events, salty foods may increase your thirst. However, if the events last longer than 4 hours, the sodium intake may be important. Over time a low sodium level may decrease performance.

Vegetables: Certain vegetables cause the body to increase gas formation. These vegetables include onions and cabbage. These foods should be avoided in the pre-exercise meal. They may lead to bloating or abdominal discomfort.

Protein Content: Protein should be avoided in the pre-exercise meal. It slows the emptying of the stomach and may cause abdominal discomfort.

Fluid Content: Fluid is important in the pre-exercise meal. Liquid foods can be taken with the pre-exercise meal, especially if the athlete has a tendency to experience an urge to go to the bathroom while exercising. These fluids will not prevent dehydration during competition. Dehydration is prevented by planned intake of fluids throughout training.

Fat Content: Fat should be minimized before competition. It slows stomach emptying and can contribute to bloating.