How to Fuel Your Body for Optimal Performance

What is the best way to fuel your body for competition? There is so much misinformation about nutrition for athletes floating around the internet that it may be hard to really know.

Let’s face it, sugar is easier to purchase, carry around, and obtain than fruits and veggies. So why not just fuel with easy foods that give quick energy, such as candy bars, chips, and monster drinks?

The quick energy trick that sugar plays on you is followed by a drop in energy levels. Your body cannot sustain an optimal level of performance if you pump it full of sugar. It takes dedication and some planning to truly fuel for athletic performance.

Two girls eating healthy food and smiling

Fueling for competitions is harder than it sounds, mostly because grabbing a candy bar or some other fast food option is easier. When you are in a hurry, it may seem like the only option available. For many summer and club events, there are lots of concession stands fully stocked with candy, chips, sodas, popcorn, and hotdogs.

It is much more difficult to find healthier choices. It takes some work and planning.

The best thing you can do for your body is to research, ask questions, experiment, and find out what your body’s needs are so you can be fully fueled and ready for competition. Everybody performs and is fueled differently. You just need to find out what works best for you and then make a plan so you have what you need.

Most teams have trainers. Some have nutritionists on staff. Other athletes just use the internet and experimentation to figure out what they should eat. But for those who are just getting started on healthy eating for optimal performance, we have some valuable information for you.

Grilled chicken and colorful vegetables

Prior to Competition

It’s best to eat the pre-game meal 3-4 hours before competition and to consume foods that are easily digestible. That is why eating carbohydrates and fluids before your game works best for optimum performance during competition. Carbohydrates actually fuel muscles, and the liquid hydrates so the body is fully fueled. Proteins, which take longer to digest, are better for the evening meal prior to game day but can also be included in a smaller amount at pre-game.

Some Healthy Choices for Pre-Game Meal 

  • Grilled Chicken
  • Fruit
  • Light pasta
  • Breads
  • Grains
  • Lots of liquids

Breakfast with eggs, tomatoes, toast, zucchini and milk

Some Examples of Pre-Game Meals

  • Pasta with chicken (marinara sauce)
  • Eggs and toast with fruit
  • Bagel and peanut butter
  • Bagel and banana
  • Oatmeal and raisins
  • Salmon or chicken and vegetables or fruit
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Foods to Avoid During the Pre-Game Meal:

  • Spicy foods
  • Candy and other processed foods
  • Fried foods

Not everyone is affected the same way by food choices, so know what works best for you. Experiment to find which foods feel best for you during competitions.

Female athlete with black cap and white towel around her neck eating a banana

Multiple Competitions in One Day

What if you are an athlete who plays 2 or 3 competitions per day and can’t get a pre-game meal for each competition? Then it is best to bring snacks. Try to avoid too many concession food snacks, unless they present healthy options.

Some Snack-Type Food for Multiple Competitions in the Same Day:

  • Granola bars
  • Raisins
  • Honey
  • Sports drinks
  • Pretzels
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Apples, oranges, bananas, and other fruit choices

If you have a parent traveling with you, or if you are traveling with a group, you can pack a cooler with some of these items so you are not locked into the concession stand and you can eat healthier. 

Ask some parents if they would be willing to be in charge of finding healthy foods for you and the team, or ask your coaches if they’ll help you eat right. With some planning and some forethought, you can be as prepared as possible.

Steak and salad

After Competition

After the competition, it’s time to refuel for the next day. Meals higher in protein are conducive to muscle recovery. And you still want to add carbohydrates to this meal as well. Avoiding lots of sugar is still a rule of thumb. However, a victory dessert might be necessary every once in a while.

If you are a vegetarian, there are plenty of choices for high-protein meals. 

Some examples of vegetarian meals high in protein:

  • Rice and beans
  • Black bean burger
  • Spinach and mushroom pasta
  • Vegetable chili
  • Vegetable wraps
  • Broccoli and pasta
  • Lentil salad
  • Salads full of vegetables
  • Cottage cheese and fruit
  • Spaghetti 


Refueling with liquids will help prevent muscle cramping and exhaustion the next day. Liquids include water, sports drinks, and other carb-based drinks. Try to avoid carbonated drinks.

As the summer rolls in and summer travel begins, remember to fuel your body for both your performance and sustaining your energy. As you are playing and improving in your sport, allow your body to fuel, refuel, and fuel again.

Female athlete doing pushups and knee touches on floor with weighted ball while starring into camera

Why Nutrition Matters

Why does all of this matter? It’s important to pay attention to your body and to the foods you eat so you can play both summer competitions and your high school season at full capacity. Your team depends on it, and, if you are looking to play in college, longevity in your sport depends on it as well.

The truth is that, if you want to play sports in college, the commitment and workload level doubles (and sometimes triples) the work you did in high school. The intensity increases as well. Your body will be required to perform at levels you are not used to, well beyond your comfort level.

Taking care of your body in high school will increase the odds that you can play college more equipped to handle the workload and longer in duration. Many high school athletes get into college and get injured right away because their bodies are not prepared. It pays to pay attention to what your body needs, and it pays to eat a healthy diet as much as possible while you are still in high school.

In the long run, your body will thank you. It will perform better, and you will have a better chance of longevity in your sport. Take care of yourself. Eat right and stay hydrated. You are worth it.

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