By: Ariel Johnston
Ariel Johnston, RD, LD, is the creator of The Tasty Balance.
It’s a no-brainer that nutrition is important. But when it comes to the endurance athlete, it can be the difference between success in an event or utter disappointment.
With hopes to always achieve the prior, there are six vital nutritional factors to consider, according to an article by theNCAA: fluids, carbohydrates, protein, fats and vitamins and minerals. Whether you’re hoping to run a marathon, or just make it to the gym, read on for the insight that can make all the difference in your sweat session.Note: As always,please consult your licensed healthcare professional before starting a new diet or exercise routine.
According to anarticle by the American Dietetic Association, staying hydrated before, during and after training or an event is essential. General guidelines for fluid replacement are:
One important thing to keep in mind is to drink by schedule, not by thirst. Often, by the time you notice you are thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated.
TheAmerican Dietetic Association also states formulation and the type of carbohydrates endurance athletes eat and drink are important because they’re the body's primary fuel source. That said, endurance athletes’ diets should consist primarily of carbohydrates to provide enough glucose in the blood to reduce the amount of glycogen pulled from the muscles. This prevents muscle fatigue and increases endurance.
In terms of exactly what should be consumed daily, about 60% of calories should be carbohydrate-rich sources or:
Incorporating carbohydrates help fuel the body during training and events and may help improve speed and performance.
Unlike carbohydrates, protein does not significantly contribute to usable fuel during activity. However, it does help repair muscles that break down during prolonged periods of activity. It also helps maintain fluid balance and is necessary for nutrient transport throughout the body.
In terms of intake, according to theNCAA, endurance athletes need an estimated 1.2-1.4g of protein per kg of body weight per day. If the athlete is also strength training this need will be higher although more than 2g per kilogram of body weight has not been shown to increase benefit.
TheNCAA also says fat is also necessary to sustain prolonged exercise, in addition to promoting flavor and that feeling of fullness with each bite. The recommendation for fat intake is 20-35% of total calories.
When it comes to which type, it’s important to focus on ones that are unsaturated and contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can help decrease muscle soreness post-workout. Examples of these include fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds.
Eating a well-rounded diet should provide most people with the vitamins and minerals they need. That said, there are a few standout vitamins and minerals endurance athletes should focus on to ensure they are getting adequate amounts.
An article inToday’s Dietitian magazine mentions how iron is a vital mineral to carry oxygen throughout the body. Endurance athletes, particularly females, are at greater risk of low iron status or iron deficiency anemia. This may lead to impaired muscle function, limited work capacity and fatigue.
Other micronutrients that are important for endurance athletes are sodium and chloride. These electrolytes are particularly critical for athletes with high sweat losses. The nutrition goal is to prevent hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when sodium levels are abnormally low in blood.
Additional nutrients of concern for endurance athletes are calcium, zinc, potassium, magnesium, vitamins B, C, D & E, beta carotene and selenium.
Specific nutrition needs can be evaluated by a registered dietitian. Just like athletes practice their sport, practicing refueling is an important part of training. An athlete’s specific sport and needs may require them to snack and drink during the event which requires them to plan in advance. A training plan should includewhat foods to eat before, during, and after the event and nothing new should be added on race day.
If you are an endurance athlete, making sure your nutrition intake is adequate is not only important for optimal athletic performance, but also helps to prevent other health complications that may arise from having low energy.
To make sure you are getting the correct amount and types of foods, consult your licensed healthcare professional who’s familiar with endurance sports and the nutrition needs of these athletes.