By: Danielle Roberts
Endurance sporting events are becoming increasingly popular. Doing well, and recovering well in longer endurance events can be directly linked to good nutrition.
EVERYDAY NUTRITION FOR ENDURANCE FUELING
The energy requirements of endurance athletes are higher than other athletes. Calorie requirements differ depending on an athlete’s gender, age, weight goals, and training programme. Smaller athletes in light training will require a minimum of 2,000 calories per day; larger athletes and those in heavy training may need well over 5,000 calories per day. It is important that athletes try achieve these calories from a variety of food sources. Having a good nutrition programme that meets energy, weight and training goals during the early phases of training, helps prepare you for heavy training schedules, and competition. A sports dietitian is the best person to assist in a personalised meal plan.
Carbohydrates provide the ideal energy source for most endurance exercises because they are quickly absorbed and used by the body. Following a diet that is too low in carbohydrates can cause fatigue and injury. Also, eating sufficient carbohydrates spares protein from being used as a source of fuel during exercise. Generally 5-7g / kg is needed per day for high intensity endurance athletes to perform at their best day after day, and on race day.
Protein helps build and repair muscles, and supports immune function. Protein also is used as a less important fuel for endurance exercise and sport. Even during race events and long training sessions, taking in a little protein, along with carbohydrates may help prevent muscle breakdown. Protein is also vital for recovery post training and allows for muscle protein synthesis. Generally, 1.2-1.7g / kg protein is needed per day.
Looking at your overall diet
Following a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet, you can easily meet your needs for endurance training and racing. Eat a diet high in quality carbohydrates, moderate in healthy fat and adequate in lean protein.
Your nutrient intake and diet plan needs to adjust to meet changing energy and macronutrient demands as you progress through the different stages of training and competition. Once you have an eating plan in place for a particular cycle, keep consistent eating habits to maintain or improve performance goals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR DURING THE ENDURANCE EVENT
During a race or event, carbohydrates (or an energy source), becomes very important to avoid “hitting the wall”. This is when your body runs out of available energy sources to fuel performance, and the athlete feels exhausted. Taking in intermediate or fast digesting carbohydrates can prevent this from happening during a race. As a rule we require 30-60 g of carbohydrates per hour, this can increase to 90 g in events with high levels of effort lasting more than 4 hours.
Fat as a fuel?
There are some athletes who are able to adapt to using fat as a source of energy during longer (slower) events, but it takes a while for the body to adapt to a low-carb training diet, and this needs to be monitored closely and adhered to strictly. Something to be cautious of is ingesting slow absorbing fuels like proteins, nuts, or foods with fibre and other solid foods during workouts or races, which can cause gastric discomfort. An empty stomach can absorb your race drink quickly and properly. Keep your stomach empty by only consuming fast absorbing drinks instead of slow solid foods.
The most important tip to follow for any type of race is of course, never to try a new supplement on race day. An athlete should always be familiar with nutrition available during the race in case that specific supplement disagrees with the digestive system, makes you feel nauseous or causes drops in sugar levels.