Endurance athletes may be participating in athletic events lasting several hours such as marathons, or several days such as Tour de France. They can achieve peak performance by eating a variety of foods to meet the demands of training and athletic events, in addition to having a solid hydration plan.
Developing a solid nutrition plan for training and competing is important. Here are some nutrition tips for endurance athletes:
- Meeting daily calorie and nutrient needs: Training cycles of endurance athletes may change throughout the year. Calorie intake should match energy expenditure as training increases or decreases. Carbohydrates should be the primary nutrient in the diet since they provide the most energy during exercise. Most endurance athletes will require 5-7 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight during moderate training, and increases to 7-12 grams per kilogram of weight during intense training. Fats and proteins can also supply some energy. Athletes should also consume adequate amounts of lean protein and healthy fats during regular meals.
- Proper fueling during activity: Maintain adequate levels of energy during longer bouts of training. Depending on the intensity of training, endurance athletes should consume 30-60 or more grams of carbohydrates per hour of training. This amount may seem overwhelming; however a fruit and sports drink or a couple of energy gel packets provide about 30 grams of carbohydrate.
- Pre- and post-workout fueling: Eating before and after training and competition provides fuel for the workout and nutrients that will help with the recovery. A carbohydrate-based meal 3-4 hours before working out is recommended, since fats and proteins may take longer to digest. If a pre-workout meal was consumed more than 4 hours before, then a 200-300 calorie snack an hour before the workout will help sustain energy. A meal or snack with both carbohydrates and protein consumed within 30 minutes of completing activity is beneficial for refueling and recovering.
- Hydration: Endurance athletes should be well hydrated before a training session or athletic event. Athletes should pay attention to their sweat rates and should hydrate sufficiently to replace fluid lost during training. Water is a great thirst quencher, but may not be adequate to replenish electrolytes that are lost with sweat. Ingesting foods or liquids that contain sodium, potassium and other minerals are beneficial for rehydration.
Sotiria Everett is a registered dietitian and nutritionist at the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery.