Sporting competitions are very common affairs in our lives. We, ourselves or our family members, or our friends may be competing. But only being trained for sports with good skills are not enough to make good performances. An athlete, however fit and trained for a competition, will have an impaired performance if his/her liver and muscle glycogen stores are depleted due to lack of proper attention to the meals. And this attention has to be given on 3 stages of meals: pre-competition meal, during-competition meal and post-competition meal. The energy giving nutritients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) fed in the correct proportion along with those helping in the release of energy (vitamins and minerals) and the fluid required to adequately hydrate the body could optimize the athlete’s performance.
Pre-competition meal: It means the period of the few hours before the competition. A good pre-competition meal must provide adequate energy from carbohydrates and ensure optimal hydration. Since the athlete may undergo psychological stress and tension, along with physical activity, it is necessary to consider this factor as well. Foods which digest slowly, i.e. those rich in fats and proteins, must be divided. About 3 hours prior to the competition is sufficient time to digest and absorb a carb-rich pre-event meal. It should contain about 150-300g of carbohydrates (3-5g/kg of body weight). This is sufficient to maximize the muscle and liver glycogen stores. Liquid and pre-packaged meals, if available, may also be given. This is because the liquid meals digest rapidly, leaving very little residue in the gastro-intestinal tract. Events such as swimming and sprint running, tennis, soccer and basketball tournaments demand good nutrition in a short time. Liquid meal fulfills this requirem very effectively. Foods rich in fat, highly seasoned and gas-producing foods must be avoided since those hinder performance. Again, simple sugars just prior to the competition must be avoided since they are rapidly digested causing an increase in blood insulin levels, which clears the sugar from the blood stream resulting in a fall in blood sugar levels just when it is needed the most. High levels of insulin also inhibit the release of free fatty acids and cause an increased use of glycogen during the initial stage of exercise.
During competition meal: During events, the intake of sugar solutions like the polyglucose drinks have beneficial effects since they maintain both energy as well as fluid balance during long-term competitions.
Post-competition meal: The post competition meal also should be comprise of sufficient carbs to replenish the glycogen stores in the body, which has been used up during the competition. It is a good idea to decrease the workload and maintain a fairly high level of carbs having a high GI (Glycemic Index), after the competition (about 7-10g/kg of body weight). It must be remembered that a sports-person is not an ordinary person. His/her nutritional requirements must be fulfilled everyday even while he/she is training for an event. T raining and regular fitness programs must accompany the dietary regimen. Nutrition must be equally emphasized both during as well as after competitions. This will enable him/her to perform consistently and be successful in the endeavor to win medals in any competition.