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Nutrition for Sports Performance Part 1: What to eat before you train

Are you training for a competition or upcoming event? A lot of people will spend hours and hours training their body but not become as fast, strong or powerful as what they have potential to be.


What happens when you train?

There are 3 key phases your body will progress through when you are in training (see image below):

  1. The training session: When you train your body is put under stress. By the end of the session your body is in a worse off position than it was before you started the session – you’re fatigued, have higher inflammation, muscle fibers are torn apart etc.

  2. Recovery: Your body then transitions into recovery mode trying its best to get back to its functional and balanced self.

  3. Adaptation: Once we have recovered, our bodies then go into adaptive mode. We’ve just been placed under a lot of stress and our body grows to become more efficient under that same stimulus so that there is less stress on the body next time. In this adaptation phase your body becomes faster, stronger, more powerful etc so that the next time you train, that stimulus will produce less stress.

(For more information on specific changes to your muscle cells see Nutrition for Sports Performance Part 3).


At each of these phases nutrition plays a critical role in helping you get maximum benefits from all your hard work in training


Adaptation from training




Pre-training meal or snack

One of the first things clients see me after we alter their performance nutrition is how much of a difference pre-training meals and snacks make to their sessions!


In your pre-training snack try to have some form of carbohydrate containing food. Carbohydrates are your body’s favourite source of energy when it is active. Carbs are rapidly absorbed and will get you to those high intensities you need to train hard.

The amount and type of carbohydrate, as well as the timing of the meal also matters.


Amount: Research supports having between 30-70g of carbs per hour of training. Pretty wide range? Yep! The amount you will need depends on your body size, the intensity of your training, how well trained you are and a bunch of other factors. It is best to speak to a sports dietitian for tailored advice.


Type: Are you about to do a fast and intense HIIT session or a long endurance run (or maybe something in between)? The type of carbohydrate needs to be matched to your style of training. Some carbohydrates take longer to digest and metabolise to give you a longer lasting energy source at a slightly lower intensity, these are referred to as having a low glycemic index (GI). Other carbs are very rapidly digested and processed to give a short lived but intense hit of energy and are referred to as high glycaemic carbs (High GI). Think about the type of exercise you do and what kind of carbohydrate will best match your needs. Some training sessions may require a combination while others may target just carbohydrate type.


glycaemic index


Timing: To avoid feeling sick when you train, try to have larger meals 2 hours before training and smaller meals closer to training.

Do you always need carbs?

I did say that carbs were your body’s favourite energy source and so you will train harder and more efficiently when you have carbs in the tank. However, is that always the goal?


Think about the goal of the specific training block or individual session. If you need to be focussed and work consistently on skills for a long period of time like in dancing or gymnastics, carbs are going to be pretty essential.


But what if you wanted to make the session harder or drive other physiological adaptations?

By removing carbohydrates as a fuel source your body is forced to work harder and become more efficient at processing fats as fuel.

This can be handy in endurance sports where being able to run on both carbs and fats efficiently could allow you to last longer than carbs alone, especially if refuelling during the event is an issue. If this is the case, you may choose to focus specific sessions around such adaptations. Instead of fueling with carbs you may train fasted or have a smaller meal rich in protein and fats 1-2 hours before your session to prevent hunger.


Make sure you are getting the most from your sessions by planning your pre-training meal or snack! There is no point in training hard for an event and not getting maximum benefits from all your hard work.


Learn how to train for longer by fueling up during sessions and optimising recovery with your post training meal.




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