The pre-game meal might not receive the appropriate attention from coaches that it deserves. Many sports are held at times that are several hours after traditional meal times, e.g., 11 am or 4 pm. This often means that breakfast or lunch is the last meal that athletes eat before competition. For many coaches, meal emphasis has usually pertained to food selection to prevent athletes from feeling too heavy or drowsy before the game. Sticking with familiar foods so as not to cause any gastro-intestinal distress is certainly a good call. However, overall caloric content of meals may be getting overlooked or under-appreciated. Coaches tend to err on the side of having athletes eat less, but is this optimal? Sports like soccer and rugby that are continuous with high tempo require a tremendous amount of energy. Some researchers wonder if athletes are ingesting insufficient calories to meet energy demands on the field. Therefore, pre-game meals may be a useful intervention period to support competition performance.
A new study published ahead of print in the European Journal of Sports Science evaluated the effects of eating a pregame meal at the athletes habitual calorie content or at an increased caloric value on subsequent simulated match performance. A group of 7 English Academy Youth Premier League soccer players performed a 90-min soccer game simulation on two separate occasions. In a randomized order, the athletes ate their typical pre-game meal consisting of 260-270 kcal, roughly 135 minutes prior to the soccer session. On the other occasion, the athletes ate nearly double the amount of calories (~500 kcal). The meals were proportioned the same at both meals such that macronutrient distribution was ~60% carbohydrate, ~15% protein and ~25% fats. At the time of the simulated soccer match, all athletes were tested for countermovement jump, sprint speed, 30-m repeated sprint maintenance, perceived gut fullness, abdominal discomfort and soccer dribbling performance. Blood samples were acquired at rest, pre-exercise, half time and every 15 mins during training.
The results showed that dribbling precision and success were not different between conditions, but that mean dribbling speed was faster (4.3%) after the higher calorie breakfast. All other performance related tests were not significantly different between the diet interventions. Blood glucose and lactate concentrations were similar between conditions at each time-point. The athletes reported significantly increased feelings of gut fullness after the higher calorie meal without any significant increase in abdominal discomfort. The authors conclude that the larger calorie meal did not have any negative effects on performance and likely reduces the calorie deficit experienced during training after a lower calorie meal during training.
Briggs, M. A., Harper, L. D., McNamee, G., Cockburn, E., Rumbold, P. L., Stevenson, E. J., & Russell, M. (2017). The effects of an increased calorie breakfast consumed prior to simulated match-play in Academy soccer players. European Journal of Sport Science, 1-9.