If you are training for an event, or trying to build up your stamina for more intensive exercise, it’s really important that you think about how nutrition can affect your body’s ability to perform.
The best way to make sure that you are getting the right fuel to help you reach peak fitness for endurance sports is to tailor your diet plan to complement your workout schedule, and set clear targets to work towards. Your individual requirements will be unique, of course. However, there are some general nutritional tips that are relevant to most training contexts.
This post will outline five common-sense nutrition tips for endurance athletes, to help you get started on your fitness journey.
- Take the Tried-and-Tested approach to nutrition:
Take the time to find out what nutritional strategy is going to work well for you in advance. It may be tempting to make changes to your nutritional plan just before a big event, but that could actually have a negative effect on your performance.
Just because a new food or regime looks good on paper, doesn’t mean that it is going to work for you. There’s always a chance that your digestive system might not respond well to that new food that you want to incorporate into your diet, and you don’t want to wait until it’s too late to find this out. That’s why it’s really important to make sure that you work on a personal nutrition strategy during training that will help you reach peak performance on the big day.
A good time to test if your nutritional plan is going to help your endurance performance, is to incorporate it gradually into your longer, more intensive training days. For example, a marathon runner might gradually build up the number of energy gels they consume (starting at 1, of course), to see how much fluid is optimal to complete the run. You can use a similar strategy to get the body used to different levels of carbohydrate intake. It’s better to change a little at a time, to avoid any sudden discomfort or gastrointestinal problems.
- Be aware of your hydration needs:
The way you deal with hydration will depend on what kind of endurance sport you do, so it’s really important that you know what your body needs before you start training, so you don’t get caught out mid-session.
If you are a cyclist, carrying a bike-bottle shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it might not be very efficient or convenient to carry water with you if you are a runner, especially on longer runs and marathons. It’s therefore a good idea to understand your hydration needs in advance, so you don’t have to carry unnecessary weight and hassle.
A good strategy of gauging how much fluid your body is going to need is to weigh yourself before and after a training session to see how much fluid you use up through sweat, etc. You should aim to lose not more than 2% of your body mass. Depending on your individual physiology, you will most likely need between 250 and 500ml per hour to maintain a good balance. Make sure you pre-hydrate appropriately before you exercise. An electrolyte tables can also be used to increase sodium levels, which helps the body to retain and absorb fluids more efficiently.
- Use carbohydrate as a precision fuel:
When it comes to endurance exercise, loading on carbohydrates at the right time during your training regime can give your body the energy boost it needs to hit training targets and performance goals.
It’s important to make sure that your carbohydrate intake matches your training plan, so that you take on enough fuel in the hours or days before a high-intensity workout so that you have enough glycogen stores to keep your muscles going, and refuel properly between sessions to maximise recovery.
You should make sure that you include an abundance of carbohydrates in your meal plans between 36 and 48 hours before an endurance event. As a general rule, you should aim to include an intake of between 8 and 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilo of body weight. This might seem like a lot, especially when athletes often want to avoid overeating on a race day, but high carb smoothies and frequent small snacks are a great way to carb up without feeling too full.
- Help your body recover:
It’s very important to take care of your body after you have done exercise, especially if you have exerted yourself with high-intensity and endurance training. There are simple ways that you can use nutrition to speed your recovery so that you can get ready to train again.
Endurance exercise breaks down muscle protein, which can result in micro-tears and strains that can hinder future performance and training adaptations. That’s why it’s important to make sure your nutritional plan incorporates protein, which is a key macronutrient in the recovery process, and that you get plenty of sleep to stimulate the growth hormone melatonin that is essential to muscle repair.
You should aim to eat between 1.2 and 2 grams of protein per kilo of your body weight, to access the amino acids your body needs to form new muscle proteins. Depending on your body-type, your recovery nutritional plan might involve eating around 20-30g of protein every 3 to 4 hours, in the form of lean meats, dairy products such as yoghurt, and whey protein shakes. Enjoy giving your body a well-deserved rest, and aim for 7 to 8 hours sleep a night to ensure proper recovery.
- Know what to avoid:
If you are training for an endurance event, you want to make sure that your nutritional strategy considers what foods to avoid, as well as what is best to include.
Some foods may taste great, but can cause discomfort to your digestive system leading up to a big event. This might mean that you need to cut down on certain ingredients, or avoid some foods altogether to minimise the risk to your physical condition during intensive training and performance times.
You should probably avoid trying any unknown or unfamiliar foods for the first time when you are gearing up for an endurance event, since you can’t guarantee how they will affect you. Likewise, spicy and high fat foods, as well as alcohol, could not be great for training. You might also think about monitoring your fibre levels in the days leading up to an event, as high fibre levels can be associated with constipation and GI issues, which could affect your performance. I recommend having a low fibre diet 48 hours before a race.
When you are thinking about how to get your body into optimum condition in preparation for endurance events such as races and marathons, it’s vitally important to consider nutrition carefully. Make sure that you work out what is right for your body in good time, so you don’t have any unpleasant surprises on race day, take care to stay hydrated and well-fuelled so that you can sustain high levels of physical activity when you needs to, and reward your body with protein and rest to aid recovery so you can do it all again. Be mindful of what your body doesn’t need, as well. It’s perfectly doable to adjust your nutritional plan so you can achieve your fitness goals. It helps to have a nutritional strategy to help you set clear targets on the way!