What is the optimal pre-exercise meal?


Consuming a carbohydrate based meal 2-3 hours before training or competition has been shown to improve performance in a number of sporting events. This is the case for sports such as football and basketball, with evidence that a carbohydrate-based meal not only improves physical output but it can also improve skill-based performance during the game. Recently, there has been a lot of interest in whether the addition of protein to the carbohydrate meal may also have an added benefit of reducing the severity of muscle damage and subsequent soreness following the session.

Research overview

Ten basketball players took part in a study that involved consuming either carbohydrate (1 g/kg body mass) with protein (1 g?/kg body mass), or carbohydrate alone (2 g/kg body mass), 90 minutes before an 87-minute exercise protocol.

The combined intake of protein and carbohydrate significantly reduced blood levels of creatine kinase (a marker of muscle damage). Free throw shooting accuracy was improved in the fourth quarter following the protein/carbohydrate meal. However those consuming protein in combination with carbohydrate experienced greater feelings of nausea both during and after exercise, in comparison to carbohydrate alone.

Take home message

In this study it was shown that adding protein to the pre-exercise meal did serve to reduce markers of muscle damage and improved an aspect of skill performance. However it must also be noted that those consuming protein felt more nauseas during and following the exercise session.

Sports people such as football and basketball players may wish to consider the intake of protein with carbohydrate before exercise, but should trial this in training sessions first. Consuming a pre-exercise meal 2-3 hours before exercise, rather than 90 minutes (as in this study), may help to alleviate feelings of nausea.