Coaching Association of Canada

Tips for eating well before, during, and after activity

As we head into the Holiday Season, we offer these tips on foods to be wary of around training and competition, on digestion times, and on ensuring proper hydration.

Happy Holidays, Coach!

  • 1. Foods to be wary of

    The following foods are not well tolerated before competition or practice and should therefore be treated with caution: 

    ·         Spicy foods may be difficult to digest before exertion. (When travelling in other countries, athletes can bring a few favourite spices if they are already used to them.)

    ·         Fibre-rich foods like whole-grain bread, cookies, whole-wheat cereals, and dried fruits (prunes, etc.) stimulate digestion and induce elimination. These foods should be avoided before exercise, especially if the athlete has diarrhea.

    ·         Gas-producing foods like cabbage, broccoli, onions, and carbonated drinks make some athletes feel bloated.

    ·         Coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate may cause diarrhea, which can have a dehydrating effect. 

    ·         Alcoholic beverages can impair performance and have a dehydrating effect. In some sports, alcohol is a banned substance. 

  • 2. Digestion Period

    The meal size and food choices will vary depending on the time between eating and performing. Athletes must allow sufficient time for digestion. High kcal meals, especially those high in fat content, take longer to digest than lighter snacks.

    The guidelines below should be used when planning meal times relative to a training session, a competition, or a series of competitions held on the same day. Coaches should be aware of individual tolerance levels for food. Experiment with these guidelines in practice to establish an appropriate protocol for each athlete.

    1.       Allow 3-4 hours for a large meal (approximately 500-800 kcal or more) to digest

    2.       Allow 2-3 hours for a smaller meal (approximately 300-500 kcal) to digest

    3.       Allow 1-2 hours for a small snack or blender/liquid meal to digest, or whatever the athlete's own tolerance indicates. 

    If the athlete will be competing within the next 2 hours, small quantities of carbohydrate are the best choice: fruit, beverages, low-fat crackers, bread, yogurt, and/or well-cooked pasta. The athlete should also drink plenty of water. (When the athlete is travelling, bottled water should be used.)

  • 3. Drinking Fluids during Activity

    Amount of Fluids to Drink 

    Athletes should drink enough fluid to maintain fluid balance throughout the exercise. The amount of fluid an individual can tolerate during exercise varies from one person to another, but usually ranges between 10 and 15 mL per kg of body weight per hour. In other words, as the following table suggests, a 60 kg person can absorb between 600 and 900 mL of fluid in an hour, a 70 kg person between 700 and 1050 mL, etc.


    Body weight (kg)

    Approximate quantity of fluid absorbed by the body in one hour (mL)

    from …

    to …























    Rather than drinking large amounts of fluid at one go, it is better to drink 0.5–1.5 cups (150–350 mL) of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes, or as much as one can tolerate without feeling any discomfort. 

    Athletes rarely consume enough fluid to maximize the absorption capacity of the digestive system or to balance fluid losses. Increased fluid intake during exercise will improve fluid balance for most athletes.

The Nutrition module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Multi-sport module series, discusses interventions, instruction, facilitation, and much more. Contact your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative to register!