This time of the year is filled with marathons, triathlons, iron mans and many other crazy endurance events. Taking part in an endurance event is a challenge, but if you put in the hard work, it will ensure that race day will be memorable for all the right reasons. Whether you are training towards your first big event or aiming to beat your personal best, preparation is everything. When it comes to nutrition, preparation can make the difference between achieving your goals or not.

Proper sports nutrition is important to ensure that our bodies are getting enough nutrients and energy they need to meet the demands of training and events and to function properly. Just as a car runs best with a full tank of fuel, your body requires the right kind of nutrients in correct proportion to perform to its optimum.

The practice of good nutrition within sport, aims to:

  • Enhance athlete’s performance
  • Reduced risk of injury and illness
  • Aid the recovery process
  • Optimise body composition
  • Confidence in being well-prepared for competition

A healthy, well structed balanced diet based around your training programme will help ensure you have enough fuel to meet the daily energy demands of both your training and competition. As a long distance and endurance athlete it is vital you focus on getting the correct amount of each macronutrient, the proportion of each macronutrient depends on the intensity and duration of the activity, on a normal training day, you should aim for 60: 20: 20 of carbohydrate: protein: fat. However, on heavy training days (long distance run or cycle) you should increase carbohydrates to 65-70% and decrease fat to 15%. A good diet will not only help support consistent intense training but also limit the risk of injury and illness.

CARBOHYDRATE

Our first thing on the list for nutrition for Endurance athletes are Carbohydrates, Carbohydrates are the main fuel source during training and race day and is stored in form of glycogen which must be refilled each day from carbohydrate foods in the diet. Including carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks in your diet prior to intense trainings or competitions, will ensure the glycogen stores are at their maximum level. These glycogen stores are required to stabilise blood sugar levels and allow optimal muscle function, therefore by maximising these reserves before exercise will help avoid depletion and muscle fatigue. Carb-loading in the days (72 hours) leading up to a big race or event, have been shown to be effective in increasing athletic performance.

On normal training days, you should have an intake of 3-4g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight. This should be increased on intense training and race days, to 10-12 g carbohydrate per KG of body weight.

On event day, it is important that you ensure your glycogen levels are still topped up to the maximum. It is recommended you consume 2-4g carbohydrate per kg bodyweight in the few hours prior to starting. Your Race Day breakfast is very important. Cereal, toast, porridge, fruit and juice are all high in carbohydrates. Don’t try anything new on race day!! Another important factor on race day is to ensure our digestive system is settled and doesn’t affect our athletic performance. You don’t want to be standing at the starting line feeling full. You can split the recommended carbohydrate intake between 2 light meals, with your last meal eaten 2-4 hours prior to starting. If you must eat close to starting the race, you should only eat easily digestible foods like bread, Jaffa cakes, and sugary sweets. Whereas, if you eat further away you can eat a larger meal consisting of pasta/rice, vegetables and meat.

PROTEIN

It is important that you have at least approximately 1.8-2g of protein per kg of bodyweight. Protein plays an important role in the response to exercise, amino acids that make up proteins are essential for the manufacturing of new tissue including muscle and the repair of old tissue. They are also the building blocks for hormones and enzymes that regulate metabolism and other bodily functions. Protein is also the building block for new muscle growth, to give you the strength you need, therefore its intake should be consistent throughout the day (20-30g each meal) and before bed, this will help maintain muscle mass by increasing muscle protein synthesis during the night. Our bodies can only store a certain amount of protein at any one time, therefore it is recommended to take a regular consumption of protein daily to maintain lean muscle mass, including foods such as poultry, fish, eggs and Greek yoghurt.

FAT

Fat is necessary for the production and regulation of hormones and maintenance of cell structures, as well as the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Therefore, it is important that players maintain a minimum intake of 0.6g of fat per kg bodyweight. However, if we are trying to achieve optimal performance and recovery, an intake of 0.8-1g of fat per kg of bodyweight it is recommended. Aim for fat intake to be 20% of total energy intake on normal training days and on heavy days reduce intake to approximately 15%.

Hydration

Fluid acts as a medium for all metabolic activity, helps to lubricate your muscles and joints, and regulates body temperature, failure to take in enough fluids during a long run can have a dramatic negative impact on both your overall health and athletic performance. Therefore, determination of sweat rate and consequent fluid demands is extremely important for athletes.

Daily recommended fluid intake

  • 3.7 Litres/day (males)
  • 2.7 litres/day (females)

This depends upon your individual sweat loss, which can exceed 10 litres/day depending on the type, intensity and duration of the exercise. We lose water through respiration, gastrointestinal system, renal and sweating, all these losses need to replace as well as the extra loss from sweat during exercise. To ensure maximise hydration prior to a race, athletes should drink 5-10ml of water or sports drink per kg of bodyweight in the few hours leading up to race. During exercise an athlete sweat rates vary from 0.3-2.4L/ hour depending on numerous factors, such as intensity, duration, temperature, fitness and body weight. The ingestion of cold beverages during a race can reduce core temperature and improve performance.

Other than water, the replacement of electrolytes is essential for endurance athletes, especially when training and racing in hot and humid conditions. The main electrolytes include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which are all involved in metabolic activities and are essential to the normal function of all cells, including muscle function. An electrolyte imbalance causes symptoms including nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness, muscle cramping, fatigue, “pins and needles”, and sometimes confusion. Therefore, the inclusion of sodium in beverages during activity would be beneficial for endurance athletes.

After training or a race, most athletes finish in hypo-hydrated state, a consumption of both water and sodium post-race will help minimize diuresis and replace fluid and electrolyte losses as quickly as possible. For effective rehydration you require a greater fluid intake than that lost, usually 125-150%, alongside an adequate fluid intake a consumption of salty foods at meal times and snacks would be beneficial.

TAKE HOME MESSAGES 

  1. Preparation is key! Proper nutrition shouldn’t just begin a few days before the event. As much as a good quality pre-event meal is very important for optimal performance during a race, if you have a poor general diet in the weeks and months leading up to it, your diet in the days leading up won’t make a difference. Maintaining a good general diet always is crucial for reaching optimal performance.
  2. Don’t try anything new on Race Day. Train your race plan, know your own bodyplan the foods you want to eat on race day and the days leading up to it and see how your body reacts to them during training, especially if you suffer gastrointestinal problems.
  3. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol is a source of empty calories; therefore, it should be completely leading up to a big competition. Alcohol can prevent athletes from properly refuelling after exercise, which can negatively affect future performance.
  4. Get enough sleep. Too little sleep increases both your hunger and appetite, and sleep also has an important role in athletic performance, so it is vital you are getting enough.