What a Squash palyer consumes before, during and after exercise is important for comfort and performance during exercise. While eating soon before exercise doesn't provide the bulk of the fuel needed for the activity, it can prevent the distracting symptoms of hunger during exercise. The major source of fuel for active muscles is carbohydrate which gets stored in the muscles as glycogen in the days before exercise. This is one reason that the post-exercise meal is critical to recovery and being ready for the next exercise session.
When To Eat
Exercising on a full stomach is not ideal. Food that remains in your stomach during an event may cause stomach upset, nausea, and cramping. To make sure you have enough energy, yet reduce stomach discomfort, you should allow a meal to fully digest before the start of the event. This generally takes 1 to 4 hours, depending upon what and how much you've eaten. Everyone is a bit different, and you should experiment prior to workouts to determine what works best for you.
If you have an early morning race or workout, it's best to get up early enough to eat your pre-exercise meal. If not, you should try to eat or drink something easily digestible about 20 to 30 minutes before the event. The closer you are to the time of your event, the less you should eat. You can have a liquid meal closer to your event than a solid meal because your stomach digests liquids faster.
What To Eat
Because glucose is the preferred energy source for most exercise, a pre-exercise meal should include foods that are high in carbohydrates and easy to digest. This include foods such as pasta, fruits, breads, energy bars and drinks. Also see: Energy for Exercise - Fat or Carbs?.
Planning is essential if you are competing in an all-day event, such as track meets or other tournaments. Consider the time of your event, the amount of your meal and the energy required. Also, be aware of the amount of fluid you consume. You should plan ahead and prepare meals and snacks that you have tried before and know will sit well with you. Do not experiment with something new on the event day.
Suggested Pre-Exercise Foods
Eating before exercise is something only the athlete can determine based upon experience, but some general guidelines include eating a solid meal 4 hours before exercise, a snack or a high carbohydrate energy drink 2 to 3 hours before exercise, and fluid replacement (sports drink) 1 hour before exercise.
1 hour or less before competition
- fruit or vegetable juice such as orange, tomato, or V-8, and/or
- fresh fruit such as apples, watermelon, peaches, grapes, or oranges and/or
- Energy gels
- up to 1 1/2 cups of a sports drink.
2 to 3 hours before competition
- fresh fruit
- fruit or vegetable juices
- bread, bagels
- low-fat yogurt
- sports drink
3 to 4 hours before competition
- fresh fruit
- fruit or vegetable juices
- bread, bagels
- pasta with tomato sauce
- baked potatoes
- energy bar
- cereal with low-fat milk
- low-fat yogurt
- toast/bread with limited peanut butter, lean meat, or low-fat cheese
- 30 oz of a sports drink
Sugar and Performance
If you are an endurance athlete, evidence suggests that eating some sugar (like energy bars, some types of candy bars, or sports drinks) 35 to 40 minutes before an event may provide energy (glucose) to your exercising muscles when your other energy stores have dropped to low levels. However, you should experiment with such strategies before competition because some people do not perform well after a blood glucose spike.
Caffeine and Performance
Caffeine acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system. It had been thought to boost endurance by stimulating a greater use of fat for energy, and thereby reserving glycogen in the muscles. Research, however, doesn't support that theory. When caffeine improves endurance, it does so by acting as a stimulant.
Caffeine can have serious side effects for some people. Those who are very sensitive to its effects may experience nausea, muscle tremors, and headaches. Too much caffeine is a diuretic, and can result in dehydration, which decreases performance.
Foods to Avoid Before Exercise
Any foods with a lot of fat can be very difficult and slow to digest and remain in the stomach a long time. They also will pull blood into the stomach to aid in digestion, which can cause cramping and discomfort. Meats, doughnuts, fries, potato chips, and candy bars should be avoided in a pre-exercise meal.
Keep in mind that everyone is a bit different and what works for you may not work for you teammate or training partner. Factor in individual preferences and favorite foods, and an eating plan is a highly individualize thing.
How Carbohydrate Fuels Exercise
Carbohydrate stored as glycogen is an easily accessible source of energy for exercise. How long this energy supply lasts depends on the length and intensity of exercise and can range anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes or more. To avoid running out of energy during exercise, start with full glycogen stores, replenish them during exercise and refill them after exercise to be ready for the next workout.
Types of Carbohydrate
Carbohydrates are also divided into simple and complex forms. Simple sugars (carbs) are absorbed and converted to energy very quickly and provide a rapid source of energy. Fruit and energy drinks are a good source of simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates take a bit longer to be digested and absorbed into the body. They also take longer to breakdown and therefore provide energy at a slower rate than simple sugars. Examples of complex carbohydrates are breads, rice and pasta. Starch and fiber are also considered complex carbohydrates but fiber can not be digested or used for energy. Starch is probably the most important energy source in an athlete’s diet because it is broken down and stored as glycogen. Foods high in starch include whole grain breads, cereals, pasta, and grains.
- Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters. How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
- Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes. How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
- Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes. How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
- Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol. How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
- Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants. How to eat: Just drink it.
- Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants. How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
- Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death. How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
- Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.” They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins. How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
- Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,” it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
- Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies. How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
- Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories. How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.