Diet is a very important part in everybody’s life, it will determine how you feel, act and survive. Diet is especially important for athletes, amateur and professional, who have endurance related goals. Fueling incorrectly for any kind of endurance training can lead to low energy workouts as well as subpar progress. When done correctly though, an endurance focused diet can set you apart from those who work out for fun and those who are truly serious about their training. Whether you are training for your first 5K run, your 10th triathlon or your 100th ultramarathon, there are many basic nutrition guidelines you must know and implement daily to maximize progress as well as continue to enjoy doing it. In this article, I will be going over all the important diet guidelines that should be followed to bring your training and game day performance to the next level.
Top Nutrition Guidelines
While the majority of an ideal endurance diet is made up of all foods you most likely already know to eat for good health, I will go over it again as a brief overview. Carbohydrates should make up around 50-60% of your daily calorie consumption as this will be your main source of clean energy to fuel workouts, which can be anywhere from 250 grams a day to 400 grams depending on your weight and metabolism. The majority of your carbohydrates should be from complex sources such as rice, potatoes, grains,
Carbohydrates should make up around 50-60% of your daily calorie consumption as this will be your main source of clean energy to fuel workouts, which can be anywhere from 250 grams a day to 400 grams depending on your weight and metabolism. The majority of your carbohydrates should be from complex sources such as rice, potatoes, grains, bread and veggies. There is nothing wrong with eating a large amount of fruits and foods containing natural sugars but refined sugars found in candies and energy/sports drinks should be limited as much as possible unless they are used strategically around/during workouts (I will touch on this in more detail later).
Protein should make up around 25-35% of your daily diet since even though carbs will be your main source of energy, protein is important to help recovery and the growth of your slow twitch muscle fibers. Lean meats as well as whey and casein proteins are very high quality and should make up most of your protein sources.
Fat is important to keep hormones functioning properly and helping to absorb many nutrients as well as other important uses in the body. You should aim to consume between 15-25% of your calories from fat (away from your pre/post workout meals if possible). Unsaturated fat sources such as olive, vegetable, canola oil, avocados, nut butter, oily fish and seeds/nuts are very nutritious as well as certain saturated fats such as coconut oil, dairies such as cheese, milk, butter, and eggs can be included in an effective diet to hit your fat.
This diet and macronutrient breakdown is quite routine and can be adopted by most types of athletes, but tailoring it for endurance will come down to meal timing, electrolyte monitoring, and hydration when it’s needed. For most sedentary individuals who start this diet from a very unhealthy standpoint will see many positive benefits from weight loss to increased strength no matter when they get their calories in, but those who are in quite a good shape and need to go from intermediate to advanced levels should consider strategically timing their meals.
While some argue meal timing isn’t necessary, it has been proven that consuming a good amount of calories before/during/after a workout can make a noticeable difference in performance. Depending on how long your workouts are, pre-workout carbs (around 30 minutes to an hour before) can be the difference between hitting the wall after 90 minutes or 120 minutes into a training session. Anywhere from 50-100 grams of complex carbs along with 10-20 grams of lean protein can be very valuable to any athlete who needs to push their workouts by topping off their energy stores before a workout. Its once workouts and actual events themselves become longer than a few hours that intra-workout carbs are needed to replenish glycogen stores. This is where simple sugar gels (usually in the form of glucose, dextrose or fructose) and sports drinks become a valuable tool to prevent lactic acid build-up and keep energy levels peaked when it’s needed most. Finally, most endurance athletes don’t prioritize their post workout meal like they should, as a decent amount of protein and carbs are important to have to help soreness as well as recovery for your next workout.
Hydration and electrolytes are very important for staying at peak performance and overall health for endurance athletes. Because endurance sports at medium to high intensity produces a heck of a lot of sweat, it can hamper performance in the form of tight muscles, cramps, headaches and even fainting if it is not addressed. Depending on how much you sweat in a given day your sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium consumption should be increased accordingly to prevent these symptoms.
This means doubling or even tripling what is recommended for the average person. Water can also complicate this as drinking too little water can cause the same symptoms and drinking too much can dilute and lower your electrolyte levels which will hamper performance. This means it is important to experiment with how much water and electrolytes you need to feel good on a training day. These numbers are different for everybody but a good rule of thumb is consuming half your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water in a day as well as 200-300% of your daily recommended intake for the above-mentioned electrolytes, but this can vary depending on how much you sweat.
Take Home Message
This article is far from everything you need to know to fuel like an elite endurance athlete, but it is a good representation of the basics needed to get started. The macronutrient diet shouldn’t be too difficult to grasp as it is how we are all told to eat from a young age for good health, from complex carbs, lots of veggies, to lean meats and healthy fats. It’s the little tweaks of the diet that are important to get ahead in the endurance including timing carbs before, after and sometimes during workouts to maximize performance as well as balancing electrolyte levels with hydration to prevent cramps, dizziness and hampered progress. Of course, diet is a big part of setting yourself apart, but training, recovery, and overall motivation make up the majority, so once you get your nutrition in order, make sure not to neglect the other aspects of a successful athlete!