Too nervous to eat?

Too nervous to eat?

Too nervous to eat?

Are you among the plethora or athletes who gets the pre-event jitters? I’ve talked with many a figure skater, baseball pitcher, and runner who feels unable to eat before a competition. Unfortunately, performance problems start when nervous energy (from adrenaline) becomes unable to sustain top performance.

The brain needs the glucose (sugar) in your blood to function well. Hence, athletes need pre-event fuel to maintain normal blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. Athletes who fail to eat before an event commonly experience low blood glucose. They feel lightheaded, dizzy, moody, easily irritated, droopy, needlessly fatigued, and unable to focus. Because the brain controls how well the muscles can function, athletes with low blood glucose can end up disappointed by sub-optimal performances. Nervous or not, your body wants fuel!

Here are some suggestions if you are too nervous to eat before a competitive event:

  • Eat heartily the day or two beforehand, to stockpile calories. Carbo-load with oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, bananas, pasta, and other breads, cereals, fruits, and veggies, These carbohydrates will help to fully fuel your muscles with glycogen; glycogen depletion is associated with fatigue.
  • By knowing you have done a good job of fueling in the 24-48 hours before the event, you can then fret less about running out of fuel during the event and focus more on top performance.

Having fully-fueled muscles can enhance your stamina and endurance, but your brain also has to be fed … and your brain’s fuel (the glucose in your blood) depends on what you eat the day of the event.

  • Before a morning event, if you will be too nervous to stomach breakfast, eat your breakfast the night before, such as having a bowl of oatmeal with peanut butter or some cottage cheese and fruit at bedtime. This helps maintain a normal blood glucose level —unless you nervously toss and turn all night, which burns off that fuel. That’s why breakfast is important, to boost blood glucose levels.

If tolerable, consume a little bit of something light: an English muffin? a shake made with skim milk + dried milk (or protein powder) + a banana + a little honey? a slice of toast —dry or with a skimming of peanut butter? some oatmeal?

• Before a late afternoon or evening event, at least eat a hefty breakfast—and hopefully a good lunch. A hefty meal takes about 4 hours to empty from the stomach, so plan your meal times accordingly.

• Choose tried-and-true foods that you know digest well. That is, don’t treat yourself to a pile of pancakes when your intestinal tract is used to having oatmeal.

By loading  up in the early part of the day, you can be well fueled for the afternoon/evening event. Try to consume a pre-event snack, as tolerated.

  • To help figure out what foods might work, ask yourself if you want: hot or cold? liquid or solid? crunchy of smooshy? salty or sweet? This can help narrow down the options. Maybe a Fig Newton or two, a baked potato? some oatmeal? or chicken noodle soup? Some athletes like applesauce, sweet potato, and even baby food!
  • After each event, assess what went right and what went wrong. Learn from each experience, so you can figure out a better plan for the next event.

What have you learned that works best for you when you get confronted with pre-event jitters? Please share your tips!

Written by Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD is an internationally respected sports nutritionist, weight coach, nutrition author, and workshop leader. She is a registered dietitian (RD) who is a board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She is also a certified WellCoach. Nancy specializes in nutrition for performance, life-long health, and the nutritional management of eating disorders. She counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes in her private practice in the Boston area (Newton, MA). Some of her clients consider her to be their food coach, others their food therapist. Regardless, she enjoys the challenge of helping sports-active people transform their suboptimal eating habits into effective fueling plans. Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, a best-selling resource, has sold over 550,000 copies and is now in it's new fifth edition.

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