We all understand that diet plays a vital role in our overall health, but we don’t often know how to best tailor the food we eat to improve our energy and activity levels. So what do the specific dietary requirements of endurance athletes (runners, cyclers, swimmers, triathletes, etc.) look like?
The daily macronutrient recommendations (for 1-6 hours of exercise/day) are as follows:
Carbohydrates = 7-12 g/kg per day
Carbohydrates provide your primary energy source (glucose). Try to choose complex carbs (polysaccharides), which are digested at a steadier rate than simple sugars and contain more calories for energy production.
Protein = 1.2-1.4 g/kg per day
The average person will need 0.8 g/kg per day, but the endurance athlete needs more. Some signs that you may not be getting enough protein include ridges or deep lines in nails, thinning/brittle/increased hair loss, muscle soreness and cramps, general fatigue and slow-healing cuts.
It’s important to have an adequate protein intake following endurance exercises for muscle building and recovery. Avoid having high amounts of protein before exercising – without proper hydration, an excess of protein can lead to muscle cramps.
Fat = 1 g/ kg per day
Look for mono and polyunsaturated fat sources, such as olive and flax oils, fish, nuts, etc. Fats will also provide a source of energy, but more importantly provide fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids, which aid in recovery.
On training days, remember a few key things:
Be appropriately hydrated (consider drinking 500 ml of water two hours before working out) and fed (a light meal 4-6 hours before, with 200-300 g of carbohydrates).
Continue to hydrate, plus add electrolytes (sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium) to the water to replenish what has been lost during training, and avoid painful muscle cramps or spasms. Aim for 100mL of water every 30 minutes.
The post-exercise recovery period is when the body’s muscle-building (anabolism) happens – and we need adequate rest and nutritional support (protein and carbohydrates) to maintain gains.
Protein protects against excess muscle breakdown and soreness (catabolism) and speeds up recovery time. Carbs should be replenished within the first 30-60 minutes of finishing training to maximize glycogen storage potential, rebuild and repair muscle tissue and support the body with antioxidants for recovery.
Depending on your body size and intensity of your workout, take in 10-30 g of protein and 30-90 g of complex carbs. Remember to also continue your intake of fluids and electrolytes: every pound of body weight loss is equal to 3 cups of water.
Studies have shown that, following physical activity, athletes are better able to digest and absorb a liquid – rather than solid – meal. Try blending a healthy smoothie, complete with a clean protein, complex carb and good fats because more nutrients absorbed equals improved lean muscle mass, healing and overall energy!
For more information about Sport Medicine or to schedule an appointment with a Lifemark clinician, check our Locations page to find a clinic near you.