It doesn’t matter whether you’re a half-marathon runner, triathlete or simply a newbie getting ready for your first 10K race - if you’re an endurance athlete, your body is no stranger to the strain of working out for long stretches of time.
Proper nutrition is perhaps the most essential ingredient when it comes to keeping your body going, getting you through your workouts and ensuring that you recover properly.
Here are our top 5 nutritional tips to help you keep optimal energy levels and ensure peak performance during your endurance training journey.
Is there a magic diet for endurance training?
There is no specific “endurance diet” for athletes looking to build stamina and better their performance. However, there are some basic guidelines that health and wellness professionals tend to recommend for those building up to compete or participate in upcoming races or long-distance events.
Nutrition for endurance is all about experimenting with a range of meals and eating plans to see what works best for your body and what combination of foods will help you reach your peak athletic performance. At the end of the day, whether you are an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, it all comes down to fueling your body properly so that you can truly perform at your best.
Five game-changing nutrition tips for endurance athletes
1. Eat carb-centered
We’ve all heard of carb-loading, and while we wouldn’t recommend scarfing down a whole bowl of pasta pre-race, fueling your body with high-quality, carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, healthy fruits and hearty vegetables is a great way to fuel your body for more intense exercise.
A high-carb diet will enable your body to absorb workouts with less stress and allow your body to better support the high volume of glucose needed for this level of physical exertion during training.
So, exactly how much carbohydrates should you be eating as you gear up for an upcoming month of exercise and get ready to put your stamina to the test?
Typically, endurance athletes report that the total amount of carbohydrates in their diet account for 60% to 80% of their calories, but the recommended intake of carbs in any athlete's diet can differ depending on the type and duration of training. In general, a good rule of thumb is to increase your carbohydrate consumption to make up 70% of your total daily calories.
2. Eat quality of food
The bottom line is that what we eat matters, and the role it plays in our performance is undeniable. It’s easy to eat well when preparing for a race, but the trick is to keep your body fueled and healthy during training and off time too.
While most elite endurance athletes can and do eat everything, they don’t eat equal amounts of everything. Instead, dedicated athletes tend to focus heavily on high-quality foods and eat low-quality foods in moderation only - since high-quality foods tend to be more nutrient dense, richer in vitamins, and contain more beneficial antioxidants.
In general, your meal preparation should focus on diet diversity, with a lot of dried fruit, vegetables and whole grains as the centerpiece of every meal and only a moderate amount of unsaturated fats, meat and dairy. The idea is to get more overall nutrition from fewer calories, which in turn will allow you to maximize your performance while still maintaining a healthy weight.
3. Eat as an individual
No two athletes are the same, and whether you’re a newbie athlete or a more experienced individual, learning how to listen to your body is essential when it comes to getting ready for an upcoming week of intense training.
Try to pay attention to what changes occur in your body and the difference in your energy levels when you eat a specific food or consume more of a particular food group. Different athletes tend to benefit from different diets, so it’s important to adjust your meals accordingly.
You might find that cutting dairy out of your diet reduces bloating, while another athlete may choose to limit their red meat intake to increase both their energy and their focus.
Learning to listen to your body’s reactions to food can do much more than just help you lose weight. It can also help replenish energy quicker after training, build and repair tissue better, maintain an ideal body weight and boost your immune function.
4. Replenishing electrolytes with healthy food
Replacement of electrolytes is an instrumental part of endurance sports training, especially when training sessions exceed 1 hour per session or when training conditions are particularly hot or humid.
Consuming foods with a lot of electrolytes are essential for basic cell and muscle functioning, and an electrolyte imbalance could cause some pretty serious symptoms such as dehydration, nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, cramping, and overall fatigue.
So, how electrolytes do you actually need?
Athletes can require anywhere from 100 to 2,500 milligrams of sodium per hour, but every athlete’s particular sodium needs depend on individual factors such as how much sodium their body is putting into sweat (aka their “sweat rate”).
Electrolyte supplements, drinks and foods that contain a good amount of sodium should be a key part of every athletes training regime to prevent hyponatremia during long endurance events. Athletes who experience frequent cramping or muscle pain should also be sure to increase their salt intake for a few days leading up to a big race.
5. It’s not just about the calories
While many athletes do choose to count calories for personal weight or training goals, when getting ready for weeks of endurance training it's important to focus on eating enough to fuel your body and give yourself enough energy first and foremost.
The dangers of under-fueling are real, and not eating enough can actually harm endurance performance just as eating too much does. Number crunching calories can prevent optimal nutrition and hydration - both of which are important for preparing and recovering from training. That’s why it's important for any enthusiastic endurance athlete to figure out what works best for their particular body so that they can eat well without letting calories be the centre of their focus at all times.
Most athletes tend to focus on eating enough to include a good variety of healthy, whole-grains, fruits and vegetables in their diet every day - which also leaves less room for unhealthy foods that are high in fat and sugar.
So, to sum it all up, following these expert tips will help you feed your body with adequate fuel for endurance activity, maximize your endurance fitness and improve your all-around performance.
A simple recipe to get you started
Asian beef noodle salad
This dish is just loaded with delicious and vibrant flavors, as well as a healthy hit of inflammatory antioxidants too.
250 g/ 8.8 oz pack of rice noodles
4 Tbsp soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime (approx. 1 Tbsp)
Knob of ginger , peeled and grated (approx 1 Tbsp)
3 Tbsp oil
200 g/ 7 oz steak, sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper , de-seeded and sliced 1/2 medium carrot, grated
1⁄2 cucumber , sliced
Handful coriander leaves, chopped Fresh chili pepper, sliced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, for serving
Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large frying pan on medium high and cook the steak until done to your liking. Season to taste. Soak the rice noodles according to pack instructions. Whisk together the soy sauce, lime, ginger and remaining oil in a large serving bowl. Drain the noodles well, then tip into the bowl. Add the cooked beef to the bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Toss everything together, and serve topped with the chili and peanuts.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog was written by WellBe&Co in collaboration with RunMalibu. WellBe&Co is a personal and corporate wellness company specializing in easy-to-implement, lifestyle-focused nutrition, training and health solutions.