Eating for cheerleading competitions – What you should eat to perform your best
Amanda McCredie – Dietician
Competition day is here. You’ve gone over your counts a thousand times and you can do your routine in your sleep. Cheerleaders will do whatever they physically can to make sure they’ll be at their best, yet somewhere between the prep and competition excitement the idea of correct nutrition gets lost. Using food as fuel to ensure you’ll have the energy to do what you spent months practicing somehow becomes a late addition.
Good nutrition can give you a quicker boost in performance compared to training. Training benefits takes months or years, whereas nutrition can boost performance in hours or weeks. Think of performance nutrition like owning a sports car. Would you put anything but the best petrol in a Ferrari? I don’t think so! The same goes with your nutrition plan. If you want your body to perform at its best you need to nourish it with the right fuel.
Cheerleading is a very demanding sport. Often athletes have three hour workouts, several days a week. Without a healthy diet, an athlete of this intensity will begin to break down physically, losing energy more quickly leading to injuries. If you are serious about progressing, good eating habits will make a difference.
Leading up to competition
In this article we are focussing on fuelling for competition but remember that healthy eating should be part of your everyday life to be more effective. Making sure that you are fuelling correctly before and after training is vital to your training ability. While good nutrition can work quickly, it isn’t magic. You can’t eat junk for most of your life then suddenly decide to eat “clean” on the day of competition and expect a miracle in your energy levels.
Competition day breakfast
Competition days are stressful and sometimes it’s difficult to want to eat, but it’s even more important to stay fuelled and hydrated on these days. Breakfast is the most important aspect of your day to maximise energy for the day Set yourself an extra 30 minutes in the morning to sit down and fuel your body for the day ahead. Eat a healthy filling breakfast including protein and carbohydrates.
Examples of Breakfast for Cheerleading competition days:
- Eggs on toast with a small glass of fresh orange juice or piece of fruit
- Porridge made on milk and some fruit such as blueberries or banana
- Smoothie made with milk, fruit, rolled oats, honey and ice
- Wrap or toasted sandwich with light fillings
- Fresh fruit and small tub of yoghurt
- Toast with peanut butter or banana and honey.
Eating at competition
Before competition choose foods and drinks that are easy to digest to avoid gastrointestinal upset from fast movements, turns and flips. A light meal or substantial snack about 2 hours before warm-up will help to top up energy stores. Foods should be carbohydrate rich and low in fat and fibre to reduce the risk of gut discomfort.
Don’t rely on what’s available at the venue and don’t try out foods that you’re not familiar with on competition day. The foods that you have access to at the venue are anything but ideal (greasy chips, pizza slices, and fried food as well as lollies and chocolate). And that’s not even considering the choice of drinks – soft drinks, and energy drinks filling up the majority of the fridge. All of this is not what a competitive athlete should be eating.
Be prepared and pack foods you like. Make sure you stay hydrated during the day and always carry a water bottle with you.
Foods for Cheer competition days:
- Trail mix
- Fresh Fruit
- Light sandwiches or wraps
- Crackers with hummus and or cheese
- Popcorn / pretzels
- Low fat milk.
Nutrition in between cheer routines at longer comps
Many cheerleading competitions are held over a few days so athletes need to ensure that a recovery meal or snack is eaten soon after cooling down. This helps to help refuel, reduce fatigue and improve muscle repair. After competing, a carbohydrate and protein rich meal or snack will help to kick start the recovery process.
Foods for between Cheerleading routines:
- Yoghurt with nuts
- Crackers with cheese or nut butter
- Chicken and salad sandwich or wrap
- Homemade pita bread pizzas with veggie toppings
- Beef and veggie stir-fry with rice or noodles.
After competition is also an important time to encourage plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses. Water is a good choice and milk contains fluid, carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes making it a very useful recovery drink.
Healthy choices = strong athletes! Food choices are crucial for anyone, but for athletes it is extremely important to be conscious of what you are fuelling your body with. As a cheerleader, it is vital to have full energy and strength to avoid burnout, injuries, and to be able to perform safely and at full potential