Making the right food choices the night before Nationals.
by Eve Pearson RD, CSSD, LD
You’ve been practicing for months, and you know your routine inside and out. You may feel ready for Nationals, but have you put any thought into the fuel needed to get your body through the actual competition? The food you choose to eat the night before Nationals is just as crucial as the choices you make the day of. Simply put, good nutrition is what gives you the energy you need to make practices productive, helps your muscles recover so you can turn around and do it again the next day, and keeps you from getting sick during these times of physical intensity.
The nature of Nationals creates challenges for making smart food choices:
1) You’re usually in a different setting (traveling, out of town, etc.) which requires that you eat at restaurants.
2) You’re around friends, family and teammates who may not all be as conscious of their food choices.
3) There are so many bad choices available to you that might look tempting, but don’t give your body the energy and fuel that it needs.
For a great pre-performance meal, carbohydrates are essential, plus limited amounts of fat. This is tough to accomplish when you’re on the road during competition weekends because of the way restaurants prepare food: To taste good, not to be good for you.
Grab a pen and take just a few minutes to write down or even do a quick Google search on food choices you know contain carbs. Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, cereal, fruit, yogurt, popcorn, bagels and juice all contain carbohydrates. For an athlete like you who puts in hours after school almost every day practicing, your daily food choices should include the foods listed above. That doesn’t mean you can’t have chicken, which provides lean protein, or peanut butter, which provides healthy fat, but it does mean that you should put extra effort into adding the carbohydrate choices on your list in controlled portions to enhance your energy levels for practice and the “big day.”
This practice of including carbohydrates at mealtimes should also carry over into the night before competition, when you’re most likely at a restaurant with your teammates and family.
How To Make Your Own Decisions
After reading the acceptable choices above, you might wonder what make these such good dishes. The first thing you’ll notice is they all contain carbohydrates. For example, the Garlic Chicken Primavera from T.G.I. Friday’s has pasta and vegetables. Another thing that you might not notice until you order some of these dishes is that the portion sizes are small compared to the gigantic portions found at most restaurants. However, they all still provide you with adequate calories, carbohydrates and protein. Third, they all contain small amounts of fat. Fat is found in cheese, sauces and dressings in restaurants and too much can make you feel sluggish.
Use these three criteria if you’re at a different restaurant or even if you’re at home. Nationals is a time to be with teammates and create memories, but it’s also important to take charge of what you put into your body to make the most of your time on the mat.
Eve Pearson, RD, CSSD, LD is a sports nutritionist based in Dallas, TX. She assists athletes in exceeding their training and competition-day goals with nutrition coaching. Her programs are available at nutriworkscnc.com.