To Eat or Not Eat Before You Compete?

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles-

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles-

Have you ever felt a rumbling in your stomach before competing and you really want to eat, but you are scared about what may happen? What a horrible feeling. And all you can think about is wanting to eat. I have a cure for you.

Practice Eating.

What?! Practice eating. I bet you are bit confused now.

I suggest at your practices, experiment with different foods at different times before you swim a run-through. Find out exactly how far out before your competition swim you can eat and what food you can tolerate.


  • High sugar foods as they can give a quick burst of energy, but then leave you flat.
  • Fatty foods- you could get diarrhea plus they take longer to digest.
  • High fibre foods for the same reasons as fatty foods.
  • High protein foods take several hours to digest.
  • Dairy because it could cause discomfort.

Try these foods:

  • Strawberries
  • Oranges
  • Blueberries
  • Dry cereal (healthy cereal)
  • granola bar (even just a few bites, not a protein bar though)
  • Or anything else that does not fall into the “avoid” category

Lots of the advice out there suggest sports drinks and gels, but I think the sugar fluctuations are not worth it, plus there is research suggesting sugar can negatively affect performance. When I trained for a marathon I used sports drinks only for the very long distances, but my body did not react well. I ended up using a different source of electrolytes that did not have the same sugar content. My body thanked me.

You may be wondering why this even matters, but I think it is distracting when an athlete is consumed by thoughts of being hungry. They need to be focussed on their competition event and not whether or not they should eat something.

As part a competition planning, figure out what food, the amount and the timing of eating can be tolerated for competition. You may not need it, but if you do need to eat you can safely do so.

In the competition plan have meals, snacks and hydration written into it so that you are staying on top of your nutrition. This may help you avoid getting hungry just before you swim.

Here are some general guidelines for digestion of food:

  • 3–4 hours to partially digest a big meal
  • 2–3 hours for a moderate-sized meal
  • less than 2 hours for a pre-event snack

Remember that the competition is never the best time to test something new.

Yours in Synchro,


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