Athletic Endurance: Eating For All-Day Sporting Events

Monday, December 18, 2006 - 4:25pm

By Dena McDowell, MS, RD

Planning food for all-day sporting events can be challenging. It’s difficult to know what to eat and when to time your meals. Here are some tips that will help you fuel to optimize your sports performance.

Breakfast for an all-day sporting event

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Food types and meal timing both depend on the starting time of the first event. If the event begins at 8 a.m., it is important to wake up early to eat a healthy breakfast. A good rule of thumb is to eat your first meal 2 hours before exercising to allow for proper digestion. A healthy breakfast may consist of:

  • Toast or a bagel with peanut butter, half a cup of 100% natural juice, and a piece of fruit
  • Two eggs, toast and 1 cup of juice

If your body doesn’t tolerate large quantities of food in the morning, a protein-rich fruit smoothie could be a great way to jump-start your metabolism.

All-day event snacking: Maintaining and enhancing performance

Between events, healthy snacking provides the calories and glucose your body needs to enhance performance. Snacks should be approximately 200 calories each. And timing is important; stop snacking half an hour before competing to enable your stomach to empty. Snacking every two to three hours throughout the day will replace the lunchtime meal all while providing a regular fuel source for the body.

Snacks should be balanced between carbohydrates and protein, and low in fat. Healthy snack choices include:

  • String cheese and an apple
  • A cereal bar and low-fat milk
  • Trail mix (dried fruit, nuts, cereal and pretzels)
  • Apple and peanut butter
  • Half a sandwich (meat, peanut butter and jelly, or cheese)
  • Low-fat yogurt and fruit
  • Bread sticks and cheese
  • Bagel and peanut butter
  • Frozen grapes or juice fruit such as watermelon
  • Peanut butter and crackers
  • Low-fat granola bars and fruit
  • Low-fat pudding
  • Ginger snap cookies or graham crackers and low-fat milk
  • Fruit smoothie (yogurt, milk and fruit blended together)
  • Low-fat cottage cheese and canned fruit
  • Low-fat granola and yogurt
  • Veggies and low-fat dip

Try to avoid processed foods, which are high in sugar and fat. Oftentimes, these foods are difficult to digest and will zap your energy in the long run.

Dinner: Eating for recovery after an all-day event

After a long day of competition, it’s important to eat a balanced dinner. This meal is known as a recovery meal (see this article for more details). Dinners should be balanced, containing carbohydrates, protein and fat. The carbohydrate-to-protein ratio should be 4:1, meaning that for every 4 ounces of carbohydrates you should eat 1 ounce of protein. Good dinner choices include:

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, garlic bread, salad and low-fat milk
  • Grilled chicken sandwich on a whole grain bun with a side of pasta salad, fruit and low-fat milk
  • Pizza (2-3 slices), salad and a small glass of 100% fruit juice

Timing for this meal is also important. It is recommended that you consume a recovery meal within one hour of completing exercise to maximize glycogen storage. If you are traveling post event, it is important to stop along the way and eat a healthy dinner.

For more information on recommended eating after working out see the following article from TheDietChannel: Sports Nutrition: 8 Nutritious Ways to Maximize Your Workout.