What Should I Eat the Day Before an Athletic Competition?
By: Brandi Givens, RDN

Athletes devote countless hours to fitness and training before competitive events, but how much time is spent considering nutrition? Whether you’re into distance cycling or tennis tournaments, fueling your body with the right foods the day before your event can provide a winning edge over opponents.1,2

With so much conflicting information about nutrition on the internet, you may be searching for solid answers about what to eat. In this post you’ll uncover:

● How to hydrate for your event.

● How much carbohydrate and protein you’ll need.

● Good food choices before your competition.

● Foods to avoid before game day.

Read on to give your muscles and mind that competitive boost, beginning with the basics: getting enough water.

That Hydration Edge

Statistics show that half of athletes are dehydrated even before their workouts begin.3 Dehydration can affect athletic performance by causing fatigue, mood swings, and dizziness. It can even lead to heart rate changes and impair decision-making skills.1-6 To make sure you’re getting enough fluid on the day before your event, consider daily recommendations from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine:

● About 11.5 cups of liquid for women (2.7 liters)5

● About 15.5 cups of liquid for men (3.7 liters)5

Active athletes have even higher liquid needs because of water lost to sweating and heavy breathing.2 One way to tell if you’re dehydrated is by checking the color of your urine, which should be very pale yellow in color.1,2

While water is often the best choice, other liquids can also count toward fluid needs including juice, milk, broth, tea, and coffee. Even high-liquid foods like soup and juicy fruits and vegetables, like melons and cucumbers, can count toward your daily needs.1,2

On the day of the competition, an athlete should drink about 16-24 oz of water within 2-4 hours of the event, and 6-12 ounces every 10-20 minutes during heavy exertion. Sports drinks, which are designed to replace lost electrolytes, may be a good choice for athletes who will be sweating for more than an hour.1,2

Man drinking water

Concentrate the Carbohydrates

Most experts agree that carbohydrates are important for optimal sports performance. Our bodies can store carbohydrates to use when we need them most. Carbohydrates are also the brain’s preferred energy source, helping keep athletes sharp while making those split-second decisions.1,2

Sports dietitians recommend carbohydrate “loading” prior to competition day, especially for endurance athletes. This means replacing some calories from fat with extra carbohydrates which will be stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. It’s best to carb load for several days leading up to the event so that your body isn’t trying to make up for a deficit on the last day.1,2

Athletes should get 2.5-5.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight, depending on how extreme your competition will be. For example, a 140-pound athlete would eat 350-770 grams of carbs in one day. Here’s a general guideline:1,2,8

● Events requiring less than one hour of exercise, eat 2.5-3 grams of carbohydrate/day

● Events requiring 1-3 hours of exercise, eat 2.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrates/day

● Events lasting more than 3 hours, eat 3.5-5.5 grams of carbohydrate/day

Picture of carbohydrate foods

Pay Attention to Protein

Getting enough protein is important for keeping muscles strong. While your biggest focus should be on carbohydrate loading the day before your event, don’t skimp too much on protein needs.1,2

This may not be as hard as you think. Some athletes are surprised to find that many high-carbohydrate sources, like whole grains and legumes, are also good sources of protein.

Athletes should shoot for about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight or 0.7 to 1.0 gram of protein per pound of body weight if body composition in not known. This means a 140-pound person would eat 98-140 grams of protein.1,2

This chart shares examples of good carbohydrate and protein choices to eat the day before your event:7

Food Grams of Carbs Grams of Protein

Banana, medium

27 grams

1 gram

Oatmeal ½ cup, cooked in 1 cup milk

39 grams

14 grams

Orange juice, 1 cup

25 grams

1 gram

Potato, large baked

64 grams

7 grams

1 cup black beans

40 grams

16 grams

Cooked pasta, 2 oz

40 grams

8 grams

Cooked brown rice, 1 cup

53 grams

4 grams

Chocolate milk, 1 cup

25 grams

8 grams

Plain Greek yogurt, 5.3 oz

6 grams

14 grams

Apple, 1 medium

25 grams

.5 grams

Granola, 1/3 cup

25 grams

3.5 grams


369 grams

77 grams

Picture of protein foods

What to Eat Just Before Your Event

On the day of competition, the general rule is to allow more time for digestion for larger meals so energy stores are full and the stomach in empty.

Give larger meals at least 3-4 hours to digest before your competition, and small meals about 2-3 hours. Use a liquid formula that contain carbohydrates and protein at least 40 minutes before competition to top off energy stores and immediately after the event for rapid replenishment and muscle recovery. If your event starts very early in the morning, consider eating your last larger meal the night before and planning a carbohydrate and protein shake formula at least 40 minutes before the event.

Finally, eating an easily digestible light snack like crackers just before start time can help keep your energy up.8

Girl at starting blocks racing

Foods to Avoid Before Competition

Certain foods are best to avoid the day before a competition because they may cause digestive upset. Consider staying away from:

  • New foods: This is not the time for experimenting with new foods or energy drinks. Eating foods that your body isn’t used to can lead to an upset stomach, which is never welcome on competition day.1,2,8
  • High-fat foods: Fatty foods take longer to digest, and may cause stomach upset, especially if eaten in the few hours before a competition. High-fat foods may also reduce your appetite for high carbohydrate foods.1,2,8
  • Alcohol: This may seem obvious, but some people may look to alcohol to settle their nerves or help them sleep. Alcohol is dehydrating which can be detrimental to performance.1,2

Fueling with the right foods the day before a competition is a great way to ensure you perform at your very best. For a nutrition plan tailored to your needs, consider seeing a registered dietitian in your area.


1.  Karpinkski, Christine. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 2017. Print.

2.  Clark, Nancy. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fifth Edition. 2014. Print.

3. Murray, Bob. 2007. “Hydration and Physical Performance.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26 (5 Suppl): 542S – 548S.

4.  McDermott, Brendon P., Scott A. Anderson, Lawrence E. Armstrong, Douglas J. Casa, Samuel N. Cheuvront, Larry Cooper, W. Larry Kenney, Francis G. O’Connor, and William O. Roberts. 2017. “National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Fluid Replacement for the Physically Active.” Journal of Athletic Training 52 (9): 877–95.

5.  “How Much Water Do You Need to Stay Healthy?” 2020. Mayo Clinic. October 14, 2020.https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256.

6.  Backes, T. P., and K. Fitzgerald. 2016. “Fluid Consumption, Exercise, and Cognitive Performance.” Biology of Sport / Institute of Sport 33 (3): 291–96.

7. “FoodData Central.” n.d. Accessed January 11, 2022. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/.

8. “Eating Before Competition.” n.d. Accessed January 11, 2022. https://www.cwu.edu/sports-nutrition/eating-competition.

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