Eat to compete – nutritious snacks help refuel

By Katie Wilhelmi

Registered Dietitian

The fall sports season is here. Eating a well-balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to promote optimal performance. Eating a variety of high-carbohydrate, low-fat foods and consuming enough fluids to avoid dehydration are key. To increase endurance, muscle strength and speed, athletes must eat to compete!

Fuel Up with

Pre-event Preparation

Fuel up with familiar foods on competition day and allow adequate time for that food to digest. A large meal can take three to four hours to digest, a small meal can take two to three hours, and a snack will digest in one to two hours. A substantial pre-event meal will help prevent fatigue and ensure you have the fuel stores needed to power your way to peak performance. Include complex carbohydrates, lean protein, fruit and healthy fats. About two-thirds of your plate should be carbohydrates. Top off fuel stores with a carbohydrate-based snack one to two hours before competition.

During the Event

Continue to refuel during competition, as needed, with carbohydrates, electrolytes and fluid to prevent fatigue and prevent depletion of fuel stores. Sports drinks, gels and bars are all efficient ways to refuel.

Refuel to Recover


Refueling begins immediately after competition with a recovery snack consisting of carbohydrate and protein to refuel stores and repair damaged tissue. Chocolate milk can be a perfect sports recovery drink as it contains the ideal ratio of carbohydrate and protein to refuel muscles. Continue refueling with a meal one hour after the recovery snack.

Stay Hydrated in the Heat

Maintaining adequate hydration can be a challenge. Dehydration can severely impair athletic performance, making it crucial to go into a competition well-hydrated. Consume fluids throughout competition day, then hydrate two to three hours prior to competition with 16 ounces of fluid and again 10 to 20 minutes before event with 8 ounces of fluid. Fluid should be consumed during competition and fluid replacement of all sweat loss should take place following competition. Choosing the right fluid for hydration is important. Water is appropriate for mild to moderate intensity exercise lasting less than 60 minutes. Sports drinks are preferred for high-intensity exercise lasting more than 60 minutes. Soft drinks and fruit juices are best avoided.

High-Performance Snack Ideas:

-Oatmeal with almonds, berries and low-fat yogurt

– Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich and a glass of low-fat milk

– Trail mix made with nuts, whole grain cereal and dried fruit

– String Cheese and baked whole grain chips

– Smoothie made with low-fat milk, yogurt and frozen berries

– High-protein energy bar and a piece of fruit

Use this recipe to make your own no-bake, high protein energy bars at home:

Fit-for-you Bars

All you need:

2 c. grains (old-fashion oats, quick oats, granola)

c. sweetener (honey, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, pure maple syrup)

1 c. nut butter (natural peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, sunflower nut butter)

1 c. seeds or wheat product (ground flax seed, whole sesame seeds, unprocessed wheat bran, wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds c. only)

1/2 c. powdered protein (vanilla whey protein powder, nonfat dry milk)

1 c. nuts or chips (chopped walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower nuts, dark chocolate chips)

1 c. dried fruit (raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, chopped dried apricots, chopped dates)

All you do:

1. Choose one ingredient from each of the seven categories, to custom-make a nutrition bar that suits your taste.

2. Mix all ingredients together using an electric mixer or food processor.

3. Press evenly into an 8- or 9 inch pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Refrigerate to firm bars.

This information is not intended for medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

Katie Wilhelmi, RD, LD is a registered dietitian at the New Ulm Hy-Vee Food Store.

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