Sep 09, 2021 / Sports Medicine

Fueling Through Pre-Performance Jitters

Every athlete knows about pre-performance “jitters.” These feelings can have a positive impact by keeping the athlete focused, sharp and on point. However, they can also cause things like decreased appetite, making pre-performance fueling difficult. “Without adequate food leading up to an event, an athlete’s blood sugars can drop, leading to fatigue, shakiness, headaches and poor concentration during activity,” says certified sports dietitian Taylor Morrison, M.S., R.D., CSSD, L.D.
Two simple messages to teach a young athlete when it comes to fueling before activity are:
  1. Choose eating something over eating nothing leading up to the event. You should never go the morning or day without eating.
  2. The closer you get to the event, the simpler you want your food choices to be. This means that protein, fat and fiber should be minimized the closer to an event you get. These simpler food choices also tend to be better tolerated by the nervous athlete.  In her pediatric sports medicine practice and educational events, Morrison offers young athletes ideas on how to fuel the body with needed energy and nutrition, even when nerves are high and appetite is low.

Fueling for Sport When You Don’t Feel Like Eating
  • Try eating a snack with carbohydrates about 30 to 45 minutes before the event. Keep protein, fat and fiber low.
    • Examples include a banana, dry cereal, a slice of toast with jam or honey on top, a plain bagel or a simple granola bar.
  • Try gulps of a sports drink about 5 to 15 minutes prior to the event if a pre-event snack cannot be tolerated.
  • For morning events, plan to eat a balanced dinner and a bedtime snack the night before so that the body is not relying 100% on the morning fuel.
  • For afternoon or evening events, eat a hearty, balanced breakfast. Meals and snacks may become less desirable as the event gets closer.
  • Pack carbohydrate-containing snacks to keep fuel levels up throughout the day if a big meal cannot be eaten after the breakfast meal.
    • Easy-to-pack snack ideas include peanut butter crackers, string cheese + crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and low-fat yogurt.
    • Easier-to-digest snacks that can be eaten closer to an event or that may be better tolerated at any time before the event by the nervous athlete include dried fruit, pretzels, cereal and sports drinks.
Find all resources from our sports dietitian on the sports nutrition page.

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