We are not correcting the nutritional mistakes our athletes make in their everyday lives. What we ought to consider is what should be provided on race day to support an athlete’s performance, aid in recovery, and—yes—minimize the deleterious effects of poor food choices, while keeping in mind what our volunteer time and budget allows.
Let’s start with foods to be avoided: any food that takes too much time or energy to digest, or causes gastrointestinal disturbance, or worse aggravates a disease process or provokes allergic response. Consider that we might have clinical-level gluten issues with some of our athletes. In addition, we do have athletes who have moderate to life-threatening tree nut and citrus allergies. Please plan alternatives for this population.
What are some examples of foods that can be difficult or slow to digest?
- High fat: red meat, cheeseburgers, sausage, cheese, ice cream
- Fried foods: doughnuts, fries, potato chips
- Acidic foods: such as heavy tomato sauce
- Even low-fat dairy if lactose intolerance is an issue
Here are some suggestions for a range of foods that can be consumed on a timeline prior to exercise.
3-4 hours before competition
Fresh fruit, bread, bagels, oatmeal, pasta (light or no tomato sauce), baked potato, cereal with milk, yogurt, toast with peanut butter, lean meat, quinoa, avocado, hummus, water, coconut water
2-3 hours before competition
Fresh fruit, bread, bagels, pasta (no tomato sauce), low-fat yogurt, water
1 hour or less before competition
Apple slices, banana, watermelon, a small serving of grapes, energy gels, diluted sports drinks, water
The follow-up question is: what should athletes eat to aid recovery?
First, one should take care of fluid/electrolyte loss with water or a diluted sports drink, and perhaps a salty food.
Current thought about recovery nutrition centers around a one-hour window for proper intake of carbohydrate and protein (4:1 as higher uptake of protein slows rehydration; aproximately 0.5 grams carbohydrate for each pound of body weight). A body’s refueling continues for several hours after exercise at a slower rate. Common practice is to drink chocolate milk. It’s easy to obtain, served in single portion beverage boxes, and quite popular. Less popular, but perhaps superior, is Kefir.
Proper refueling is especially important for athletes racing multiple events.
Since smoothies are an impractical regatta food choice, one could instead eat a banana with peanut butter, peanut butter on celery with raisins, yogurt with berries, granola and honey, hummus and vegetables, quinoa salad. Trail mix with proper carbohydrate to protein ratio is a fine choice. Young athletes like chocolate milk, though the refined sugar is problematic. Energy bars are a reasonable choice, again the refined sugar is an issue.
Catharine Labine 9/15/13