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The athlete’s goals during competition are to perform to their optimum level. A range of factors can impair performance, including issues related to nutrition. ‘Competition eating’ is based on the principle of implementing nutrition strategies that can reduce or delay the onset of factors that cause fatigue or performance impairment. Of course, practical issues must also be considered, particularly in light of the frequency with which athletes are required to travel interstate or overseas to compete in their target events. Competition nutrition includes special eating strategies undertaken before, during and in the recovery from the event. In this chapter, we will review the strategies undertaken in the hours or days before competition, to prepare athletes to perform at their best.


A variety of nutrition factors can reduce an athlete’s ability to perform at their best during exercise (see Box 13.1). The risk and severity of an encounter during competition depends on issues including the:

  • duration and intensity of the exercise involved

  • environmental conditions (e.g. temperature and humidity)

  • training status of the athlete

  • individual characteristics of the athlete

  • success of nutrition strategies before and during the event.

BOX 13.1 Nutrition factors associated with fatigue or a decline in performance

  • Depletion of glycogen stores in the active muscle

  • Hypoglycaemia

  • Other mechanisms of ‘central fatigue’ involving neurotransmitters

  • Dehydration

  • Hyponatraemia

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort and upset

It is relatively easy to investigate the physiological factors limiting the performance of simple exercise tasks (e.g. running or cycling) undertaken in an exercise physiology laboratory. Furthermore, factors identified in laboratory simulations of simple competitive events such as these may well apply to the real-life performances of athletes. However, it is more complicated to measure or predict factors limiting the performance of complex sporting events, particularly ball games and racquet sports, in which competition demands have a high degree of inter- and intra-athlete variability. Sports scientists try to pinpoint the likely risk that various factors will cause fatigue in a given sport or event, based on the available applied sports research, as well as accounts of past competition experiences of the athletes involved. With this knowledge, athletes can then be guided to undertake specific competition nutrition strategies that will minimise or delay the onset of these problems.


Pre-competition nutrition strategies include dietary interventions that are implemented during the week before an event, as well as special tactics that are undertaken in the minutes or hours before the event begins. These nutrition strategies should target the specific physiological challenges that affect the performance of the athlete’s sport (Burke & Hawley 2018). According to the characteristics of the event, strategies might aim to minimise fluid deficits, ensure fuel availability or prevent gastrointestinal discomfort. Ideally, an athlete should combat these ...

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