Three hours before
The biggest misconception about pre-activity fueling is that you shouldn’t eat, but you’ll actually compromise your performance by not fueling up, Liz Applegate says. She recommends a high-carbohydrate pre-activity meal. “Carbs are like topping off the tank, like in a car, with the energy you’ll need to go the distance,” she says. “They fuel your brain, and keep it alert and ready for hand-eye coordination and accuracy.”
She suggests foods that are easy to digest, which means no protein bars or beef jerky; high-protein foods sit in your stomach, as do high-fat foods like regular chips and candy bars. You’ll also want to avoid certain vegetables and high fiber cereals because such foods will speed intestinal track motion, which means you might have to take a couple stops to the bathroom during practice or a game.
Depending on your size and exercise intensity, Applegate says to consume up to 800 calories, which you can get from the following meal: 12 to 16 ounces of a sports drink; one slice of whole-grain bread with a tablespoon of peanut butter, topped with banana slices and drizzled lightly with honey; a pear; and an energy bar (Applegate recommends Clif, Odwalla and Powerbar).
If you require more calories, whole-grain crackers, low-fat yogurt topped with granola and baked chips are all easy, portable options. Applegate also recommends keeping the following staples in your backpack or gym bag:
- Trail mix with dried fruit [e.g., mangoes, apricots or raisins]
- Energy bar
30- 60 minutes after
Just because you might not feel like eating after intense activity, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. “The purpose of the post-activity meal is to refuel the body—to take back in carbohydrates and some protein for muscle repair— and to keep the immune system strong,” Applegate explains. “Muscles are very responsive [after a workout] and ready to pick up nutrients.”
If you have little appetite, Applegate suggests first downing a sports drink, which contains key minerals, like potassium and sodium, to rehydrate your body. Also, eat a piece of fruit. Try a cup of red or concord grapes, which contain flavonoids. Research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests these potent antioxidants reduce free radical damage and protect against oxidative stress. Simply put, less muscle soreness.
Within the 30-to-60-minute timeframe, you’ll also want to get some protein. Applegate recommends going lean. Try a whole wheat pita pocket with a packet of tuna. “It provides high quality protein with other nutrients, such as zinc and iron, needed for recovery from activity,” she says.
Lean deli meat, like turkey or chicken, is another good option. If you make a pit stop at a fast food joint on the way home from practice, your best bet is the least expensive burger because it’s not packed with extras, like bacon and cheese, and therefore not loaded with as many calories and fat.
Add an eight-ounce bottle of low-fat chocolate milk. It has about 26 carbs and eight grams of protein. According to a Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism study, chocolate milk can be an effective recovery beverage because of its high carb and protein content.
* For a slice of whole wheat bread with 1 tbsp. PB, 1 packet of honey, ½ medium banana [sliced], pear, Vanilla Crisp Powerbar and 16 oz. of melon Gatorade Fierce
* For a small pita pocket, a 2 oz. tuna pouch, 1C grapes, 8 oz. low-fat chocolate milk.