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Pre-Training Nutrition


Proper nutrition before training sessions (and competitions) can make all the difference to an athlete’s performance. The main priority is that they’ve consumed enough energy-dense foods throughout the day to ensure enough ‘fuel’ is available for the exercise they’re about to embark on. Carbohydrate will be their primary source of easily accessible energy, and it’s therefore important that this features in their meals throughout the day.

If they are at school beforehand, make sure they have access to healthy, energy-dense foods that ideally are not high in fat, as this can cause sluggishness, which will be far from ideal. Athletes eating school dinners are obviously at the mercy of whatever is provided, so sending them armed with healthy snacks will likely be a good move.



Pre-training snacks like fruit, sandwiches, cereal with milk, granola bars, or smoothies, for example, can provide helpful energy ‘top-ups’. These snacks should be low in fibre as this can cause digestive issues during exercise (so, in this instance, white bread sandwiches will actually be a better option than brown!)



Getting the timing of food intake right is essential to allow adequate time for digestion and ensure energy availability whilst also helping to avoid ‘tummy problems’.

As a rough rule, a meal (e.g. spaghetti bolognese or pasta bake) should be consumed at least 3 hours before training, whereas pre-training snacks (e.g. a sandwich and a glass of milk) can be consumed 1 - 2 hours before training.


One of the most important pre-training nutrition guidelines relates to hydration. Dehydration will negatively impact performance. Making sure your athlete understands this is a good way of ensuring they take hydration seriously. Before training, encourage them to have regular sips of water. Water is by far the best option before, during, and after exercise and ensuring they have easy access to it at all times is absolutely essential, especially during warmer weather. See our Hydration lesson for a more detailed account.

How You Can Help

Ensuring your athlete has access to appropriate pre-training nutrition is a surefire way of helping them get the most out of each and every session through enhanced endurance, the ability to recover optimally and a reduced risk of injury. This will also assist their overall growth and development.

Providing well-balanced, healthy, and energy-dense meals and snacks will ensure they have the energy and nutrients needed to perform at their best. Although more time-consuming to prepare, 'real food', i.e., food made from scratch, will always be preferable to ultra-processed alternatives.

Involving your athlete in meal planning and preparation teaches them the importance of proper nutrition while introducing accountability and a degree of control and choice.

Take Home Points

  • On training days, help them to keep their “fuel gauge on GREEN” by providing breakfast and lunch with good carbs, protein, and fats.

  • Provide a substantial healthy snack 2-3 hours before training plus a smaller snack 1 hour before training.

  • Foods containing relatively low fat and fibre are best in the 1-2 hours before training, e.g. a white bread sandwich instead of one made from wholemeal bread.

  • Remember: Athletes respond differently to different foods, timings, etc. What works for one athlete might not work for another. Find what works/doesn’t work.

  • Remind them that pre-training hydration is essential for good performance.

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Evidence-Based Research

Our content is supported by:

  • American College of Sports Medicine, 2000. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., 32, pp.2130-2145. (View Paper)

  • Litt, A.S., 2004. Fuel for young athletes. Human Kinetics. (View Book)

  • Purcell, L.K., Canadian Paediatric Society and Paediatric Sports and Exercise Medicine Section, 2013. Sport nutrition for young athletes. Paediatrics & child health, 18(4), pp.200-202. (View Paper)

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