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Sports Nutrition: What and How to Eat Before, During and After Exercise and Competition

sports nutrition

Many of our patients at Integrated Orthopedics are athletes – from professional athletes to longtime amateur athletes. The right food before, during and after exercise is important to perform at the top of your game. Here are some nutrition tips and ideas for help fuel your workouts and competitions before, during and after.

Eating Before Exercise

Eating before a big game, competition, or workout will help you perform at your best. Here are some ways to optimize pre-exercise nutrition.

  • Eat meals that are carbohydrate-rich, moderate in protein and low in fat and fiber to optimize digestion and energy availability.
  • Prevent dehydration by consuming fluids in the hours leading up to a long workout or competition.

Ideas for Foods to Consume 1-4 Hours Before Exercise:

  • Peanut butter and honey on crackers
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothie
  • Low-fat cottage cheese
  • Yogurt + granola + fruit
  • Lean hamburger or chicken on a whole-wheat bun

Ideas for Foods to Consumer 30-60 Minutes Before Exercise:

  • A piece of fruit
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Sports drink if your last meal was over 3-hours prior
  • Sports gel, sports bar
  • Fruit puree pouch like applesauce

Eating During Exercise

May athletes hit a wall during long endurance competitions like marathons or long bike rides. Here are some ways to keep you going strong.

  • Provide fuel early and often for better performance and recovery. Strive to get 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour for endurance exercise beyond 60 minutes.
  • Consume fluid during activity to prevent dehydration.
  • Experiment to determine the right amount and combination of foods – liquids, sports foods, whole foods – that will sustain you and minimize gastrointestinal problems.
  • For extended exercise, begin refueling within the first 15 minutes.
  • Consume fluids with carbohydrate-rich foods for faster absorption.
  • Products with more than one source of carbohydrates (glucose, sucrose, fructose) will absorb quickest such as:
    • Sport nutrition products that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes: drinks, gels, beans, chews
    • Easily digested carb-rich foods like bananas, dried fruit, sports bars and granola

Eating After Exercise

Eating for recovery after a long strenuous workout, game or competition is very important. Here are some tips for nutrition recovery.

  • Consume a snack or meal within an hour following training or competition.
  • Weigh yourself before and after you exercise to know how much fluid to replenish.
  • Eat 15-25 grams of high quality protein to assist your muscles in repairing damage and tissues and to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Recovery Snack Ideas:

  • Smoothie with milk (or milk substitute with protein powder), greens and fruit
  • Crackers with nut butter
  • Pita chips and hummus + fruit
  • Yogurt with berries and whole grain cereal
  • Trail mix with nuts and dried fruit

Recovery Meal Ideas:

  • Turkey, spinach sandwich wrap with fruit
  • Rice bowl with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado
  • Grilled protein such as fish, chicken or steak with broccoli or carrots and a baked sweet potato.
  • Stir-fry with protein, veggies and quinoa
  • Veggie omelet with whole grain toast and fruit


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