It takes a lot of energy to power your muscles for an athletic competition. Research from the University of North Carolina shows that you should eat your prerace meal as close to your event as possible, as long as your stomach is empty when you start. For most people that's about three hours before the event.
Your brain gets its energy almost exclusively from sugar in your bloodstream and your muscles don't contract effectively when your blood sugar runs low. There is only enough sugar in your bloodstream to last three minutes, so to keep sugar levels from dropping, your liver release sugar from its cells. But your liver stores only enough sugar to last 12 hours. Eating fills your liver with sugar. If you eat six hours before you compete, your liver will already have used up a major portion of its stored sugar, so you want to fill your liver with sugar as close to your event as possible and leave your stomach empty. That's two to three hours before competition. You don't need to eat sugar; your body converts any type food you eat to sugar for energy.
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