6 Nutrition Tips For The Endurance Athlete

Posted by | March 15, 2017 | Nutrition | No Comments

We athletes live in a world where food is fuel and it can be easy to forget that eating well consists of more than just bars or the latest technological advance in electrolyte concoction on the market. If we take the time to think about it, even a 20-hour/week training regimen leaves us with 92 non-training hours. That’s a fair bit of our waking lives that aren’t spent sucking down energy gels or dowsing ourselves in sports drinks.

What we put in our mouths during those 92 hours can have a significant impact on our ability to function at our best. Here are a few key principles of everyday nutrition:

Eat a quality diet

The advances in sports nutrition product palatability have comes leaps and bounds and we can all probably name off our favorite bars and gels. However, there’s no denying that our general health is the foundation of our endurance fitness and a high-quality diet is essential for that.

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Possible signs of a poor diet:

  •      Propensity to illness and/or injury
  •      Trouble achieving body composition goals

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      Our plates are piled high with vegetables, fruits, lean protein and complex carbohydrates
  •      We avoid over-processed junk foods (including too much dependence on energy bars/ gels) and fatty foods
  •      We limit our intake of alcohol to 1-2 drinks/day and minimize our caffeine consumption


Eat enough throughout the day

We may think we’re tired because we’re overtraining, then again, it could also be that our blood sugar is out of whack because we skipped breakfast again. Many endurance athletes, despite properly fueling their workouts, finish the day with a caloric deficit. The fear of weight-gain can trigger restrictive behaviors and what will ultimately suffer is our performance. It’s easy to assume that our performance starts with training, but, the truth is it starts with fuel.

Be aware of:

  •      Track how enjoyable our workouts are and how motivated we feel
  •      Obsessing about food all the time
  •      Night-time hunger spikes

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      Our performances are consistently improving
  •      We are recovering quickly between training sessions
  •      We rarely crave sweets


Practice meal timing

Most of us would never recommend a long run after a full thanksgiving feast so most of us also know that even eating high-quality foods at the wrong time can do more harm than good. It’s recommended that an athlete have some sort of nutrition ~1-3 hours before a training session. We can benefit from teaching the body to use our own fat stores for energy for shorter, higher intensity training sessions under 2 hours. Sessions over three hours, it’s recommended to take in 200-300 grams of carbohydrate 1-4 hours beforehand.

What we eat after a workout—when the muscles are primed to best absorb the nutrients—is just as important. The 30- 60-minute window immediately after long and high-intensity workouts are especially key. We should try to consume 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and 10-25 grams of protein after a workout. We should avoid eating anything high in fat until a few hours post exercise because it impedes carbohydrate absorption.

Pay attention if:

  •      We’re prone to GI issues during workouts (sometimes caused by taking in too many carbohydrates)
  •      We’re low on energy or feel heavy/ sluggish before and during workouts

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      We feel satiated, energetic and light in all our workouts, regardless of the time of day


Track macronutrients

Fueling our bodies is more complicated than simply eating our fruits and veggies. Macronutrients—consisting of carbohydrates, fats and proteins— all play equally important roles in the body and it’s critical to give our bodies the right balance of each.

The exact percentages of each varies depending on the type of athlete we are. For example, an IRONMAN triathlete needs more carbohydrate (the body’s primary energy source) versus a short-course triathlete logging fewer training hours. As a general rule, athletes should aim for getting 45-65% of daily calories from carbohydrate, 15-20% from protein and 20-35% from fat.

Pay attention if:

  •      We feel low on energy before, during and after workouts (signs of macronutrient imbalance)
  •      Fatigued frequently

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      We recover quickly, even after high-intensity sessions
  •      We rarely get sick or injured


Hit the hydration sweet spot

Good digestion, nutrient absorption, skin health and optimal brain power all rely on hydration. When we’re not on the course, proper hydration is about reaching the right balance of fluids and electrolytes. Contrary to popular belief, the idea that drinking eight glasses of water a day has no basis in science. How much need to drink will vary greatly between us depending on our size, sweat rate, activity levels, weather and even altitude. It’s better that we pay close attention to our thirst in addition to alternating plain water with low-sugar electrolyte drinks to balance out salt and mineral in our bloodstream.


Pay attention for:

  •      Fatigue, nausea, dry lips and throat, headaches and reduced concentration or endurance during workouts
  •      Frequent, light-colored urine (over hydration) or infrequent, dark urine (dehydration)

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      We’re aware of our daily hydration needs based on what kind of work we do and where we live, and keep up with them.
  •      Urine is consistently straw-colored


Maintain a healthy relationship with food

The sport of triathlon is known to attract obsessive A-types. We log our workout hours and race results and generally monitor our bodies like science experiments. When it comes to food, however, this relationship can get complicated. On the one hand our bodies cry out for nutrients, on the other our brains are often more likely to restrict ourselves with race-weight goals at front of mind. We all know that we should aim for our nutrition be healthful but it should also be enjoyable and stress-free.

Look out for:

  •      Eating mindlessly
  •      Having a long list of restricted or “fear foods”

We’ve nailed it when:

  •      We eat slowly and consciously
  •      We consume real, whole foods
  • We avoid pre-packaged convenience foods and prepare meals in our own homes more often than we eat out
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