We know that many of you out there are big lifters, like us, but we also want to cater to our readers who may love endurance sports more! Although nutrition does not vary that much between those who lift and those who run, swim, or bike, if you are training for longer races, then there are certain things we must know about fueling and recovering our bodies. Things can look very different compared to your normal weight-training session!
We’re going to break this down into the main focuses we find serves our endurance athletes best when looking at how to eat, hydrate, and recover for those long training days!
Carbohydrates vs. Fats
Which is better for endurance athletes? Although the research is pretty clear for resistance training, or higher-intensity sprint athletes that carbohydrates are the best fuel source, the research around endurance athletes is actually quite inconclusive (SOURCE). When comparing a high-carb, low-fat diet to a high-fat, low-carb diet, the endurance athlete’s performance remained largely unchanged.
With that being said, we always recommend experimenting with your own diet to find how you feel and perform best! When we coach endurance athletes, including triathletes, marathon runners, IRONMAN athletes, and cyclists, we typically err on the side of fueling with carbohydrates, as they are often tolerated a bit better than high fats by most individuals. They’re a bit easier and more appetizing to consume in high amounts, and most intra-race or intra-workout sources are pretty carb-based. We also like keeping our options open! When you go to a low-carb, high-fat approach, your body loses its ability to utilize carbohydrates as an energy source. So when we maintain a higher carb, moderate fat diet, the body can utilize both energy sources for training!
Carbohydrates are the fuel to our body’s tank and they get stored in our liver and our muscles. These stores are what our body uses to stabilize blood sugars which allows for muscles to avoid major fatigue and the body to not drop too low on blood sugar and result in dizziness.
The general rule of thumb is that we are able to store about 2g of carbohydrates for every pound of lean muscle mass, plus an additional 100-125g of carbohydrates in our liver at any one point (SOURCE). We will discuss later on how you can fuel for a specific long run or race day!
We’ve talked many times here around protein and its importance to maintaining muscle mass, improving blood sugar responses, and helping to reduce cravings. As for endurance athletes, protein can be really helpful when it comes to longer efforts or training days. Research has shown that including small amounts of protein during longer training can work to spare muscle glycogen as well as aiding fluid uptake - meaning we don’t burn through our muscle when training, and we actually absorb and utilize fluids better (SOURCE).
Protein needs to be balanced properly though because protein also has the highest thermic effect of food, meaning it takes the most energy and the longest amount of time for the body to break it down. When consuming too much protein within or around your training, it can slow digestion and cause stomach upset, bloating, cramping, or overall muscular fatigue.
We typically recommend that our endurance athletes consume a minimum of 0.6-0.7g of protein per pound of body-weight. For example, a 160lb individual would be consuming 96-112g of protein each day. This is adequate to help support body muscle maintenance as well as optimal body-functions which require protein! We will discuss later how we recommend taking in protein on race day.
Unlike strength athletes, endurance athletes have a special need for additional water and electrolyte intake because of the fluid loss that can happen during long periods of endurance training. The problem with only taking in water is that it dilutes the electrolyte supply and can actually make things get worse for those trying to avoid major dehydration. Believe it or not, studies have shown that electrolyte depletion is actually a bigger problem in long-races like IRONMANs than straight dehydration (SOURCE). So we want to cover the main electrolytes and what their purpose is for not only endurance athletes, but all of the population in general!
This is why we developed our HYDRATE with the essential electrolytes we need to help our bodies thrive, and it is not just for endurance athletes! If you live a high stress lifestyle, or you are weight training, electrolyte balance is just as important to keep an eye on.
So what about Race Day or leading up to it? How do we prepare given all of this information? If your race is longer than 2-3 hours worth of work, it is definitely something to prepare ahead of time for. We will caveat all of this with the fact that these things should be something you experiment with! This is not stuff that you just throw into your routine on race day and hope for the best. Use some of these methods on your longer training days leading up to the race to find what works best for you!
Week prior to the Race
Don’t change much the week leading up to the race besides your carbohydrate intake, which will also help your electrolyte balance. We usually recommend to avoid too many vegetables and fruits the 2-3 days leading up to your race to reduce fiber in the system. This can help with digestion and avoiding digestive woes the morning of or during your race! If your race is longer than 3-4 hours, we recommend taking the 1-2 days prior to the race and increasing your carbohydrate intake utilizing low-fiber foods like pretzels, cereal, pasta, white rice, potatoes, sports drinks, etc.
We will usually take a client’s estimated lean body-mass and multiply that by 3-4g to get their carbohydrate intake to shoot for the 1-2 days leading into the race.
Morning of Race
This always depends on the individual, their size, their fitness level, and their digestive abilities, but these are some general recommendations we have for our athletes for the pre-race meal and timeframe:
Again, this will always depend, but the general recommendations we make around intra-workout fueling are the following:
Fueling for endurance training is very different compared to fueling for weight training or any other general fitness approaches, so make sure if you are gearing up to increase your miles, or take on a new distance you’ve never conquered before, to ensure you are fueling your body with the right nutrients and food!
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