Summer and Fall are both popular seasons for sports tournaments, especially those where athletes are expected to play multiple games in one day or over the course of a few days. During these days, players burn a lot of energy so it’s important to have a nutrition and hydration plan in place.

Developing a fuel plan before the tournament is key to success and playing your best!

Fueling for competition starts in the days before the event. First, stick to familiar food and drinks to avoid an upset stomach. Balance out meals with enough protein, carbohydrates and fruits/vegetables to repair muscles and optimize carbohydrate stores. It’s also important to stay hydrated during this time, not just while you are playing.

The morning of the competition, the goal is to top off our energy (carbohydrate) stores. While we sleep we deplete these stores so it is important to refuel in the morning. The time and type of exercise the athlete is performing will determine each individual need, but in general a moderate-to-high carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low-fat meal is best!

For early morning starts it may be harder to get energy in. This is when liquids like sports drinks or a smoothie can come into play. It is also important to be as hydrated as possible before your start time. This may take some trial to see how much water you can handle without getting an stomach upset. If there is time before your competition, eat a meal 2-4 hours before. Including a little bit of protein in this meal will help keep you satisfied for longer. You should also aim for 16-20 oz of fluids during this time. If time allows, roughly 30 minutes before the start of your competition, have a high-carbohydrate snack with about 8 oz of fluids. High-fat foods take long to digest and can cause stomach upset, as can foods that are very spicy or acidic so it is best to avoid these.

During the tournament it is important to continue to drink fluids and stay fueled.

If events are closer than an hour apart, sticking to fluids ONLY is ok. If there is more than an hour, grab a high-carbohydrate snack like a granola bar or a piece of fruit. For longer breaks, add in a little protein to make the snack more substantial and keep you satiated. Good options are sandwiches, wraps, or yogurt parfaits. For hydration, pay attention to how much you are sweating. If it is a hot and humid environment or you are a heavy sweater, reach for an electrolyte beverage.

At the end of the day, enjoy a balanced meal with protein for muscle recovery and carbohydrates to refuel muscles, especially if the competition is multiple days in length. For events that involve continuous endurance like running or biking as well as high intensity team sports, carbohydrate snacks are encouraged. For lower intensity sports or those shorter in duration, recovery meals should include adequate protein for recovery.

Bringing a lunch box to the competition filled with many options will ensure you have whatever you need on hand to perform your best.

Competition schedules can change throughout the day so having both carbohydrate and protein snacks is best. Again, planning ahead is the key to success!