How to Eat to Compete: Why Endurance Athletes Need Fuel 24/7
With more and more amateur athletes taking up endurance sports like marathon running, long-distance cycling or even triathlons, here are five nutrition tips for the “weekend warriors” amongst you to help you get your performance nutrition right!
Athletes need to fuel up in the morning, since their stored fuel reserves will have dropped during an overnight fast. Training and racing take a toll on the body, and starting the day with a healthy meal balanced with carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals provides a solid nutritional foundation for performance.
Hydration is an essential. Because hydration directly impacts athletic performance, it is even more important for athletes to keep fluid levels topped off – especially in physically demanding, long-distance events. Besides water, electrolytes – important body salts which support proper muscle function and help regulate body temperature – are needed too. It is important to hydrate during your race, but also to sip fluid throughout the day to fully rehydrate. Sports drinks provide not only necessary fluid, but also electrolytes that have been lost through perspiration. Sports drinks contribute carbohydrates, too, to help fuel working muscles during the event.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel during exercise and they’re essential to keep the body running. In an endurance race, calories are king and getting enough is essential for performance. Getting plenty of carbohydrates both before and during the race is key. In addition to carbohydrates, a small amount of protein during exercise can help speed recovery.
The body needs the right amounts of carbohydrates and protein to begin recovering after a race. Recovery is two-fold: carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen stores, and protein is necessary for rebuilding damaged muscle.
Supplementation in a race is essential, as the nutritional needs of cyclists are so extreme that they can’t be met with food alone. That being said, it is important to keep in mind that supplementation is just that – a supplement to a regular healthy diet. Every athlete should get the majority of their calories and nutrients from whole foods, primarily healthy sources of healthy carbohydrates – whole grains, fruits and vegetables – and protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, low fat dairy products and plant sources such as soy.
Written by Susan Bowerman, M.S,. R.D., C.S.S.D., in collaboration with John Heiss, Ph.D.. Susan is Director of Nutrition Training at Herbalife and John is a co-developer of the Herbalife24 range of performance nutrition products.