Endurance Training Nutrition 101

By Jessica Poole, Certified Athletic Trainer

With cooler weather coming our way, now is the perfect time to take on our favorite endurance activities (5Ks, 10Ks, triathlons, marathons, half marathons, etc). 

We feel better when it’s cool and can train longer.

For those events, we must have proper nutrition in order to take full advantage of these short-lived perfect weather conditions.

How does your nutrition affect your training?
Do you feel drained, exhausted and depleted after a few miles?
How do you take in all that is needed to perform at your best?

Over the next few blog posts, I hope to outline the nutrition basics for endurance training, offer tips for consuming enough calories and finally to discuss recovery from all the hours put into training.

So let the running shoes rest a minute, the swimsuit dry out and grab your recovery drink and take a load off…

Nutrition base

So do you know how much and what types of food you should be consuming? Do you understand the basic principles of nutrition? This is where we start.

All of my information comes from a great text book, Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, by Monique Ryan1. I am not a nutritionist, only a very experienced athletic trainer. Please take the time to look up this book and borrow it from a library or purchase it, if you want to know more.  It has a wealth of information I just can’t possibly cover in a few blog posts.

Fluid Basics
See my hydration blog from the spring for a good basic hydration protocol (Drink Up: The 24-Hour Plan to Stay Hydrated)
  • Endurance athletes need  2.5-3.0 quarts of fluid daily. The majority of this fluid needs to be water, however feel free to mix in sports drinks, diary, juices, even coffee if desired.
  • Add one extra quart of fluid if it’s hot and humid.
  • For every pound of fluid lost during exercise, consume 24 ounces of fluids to replace.
  • Monitor hydration by weighing before and after exercise, monitoring urine input/output and color (urine should look clear to light yellow: think lemonade color) and your thirst. Drink before you are thirsty, as thirst means you are already one percent dehydrated.
  • Recover with sports drinks and dairy. Both are rich in carbohydrates and protein which your body needs to refill its energy reserve and aid in recovery of muscle tissue.

Carbohydrate Basics
  • Carbohydrates, poor guys, get such a bad rap, but these are your very, very, very best friends. They are not friendly to those who are sedentary, but for the endurance athlete they are essential! Carbs are either simple or complex chains of carbon sugars that provide fuel.
  • Carbs are our most effective and first-used fuel source. Without adequate carbohydrates, we are weak and sluggish. No energy. We should aim to ingest 60-80 percent of our calories as carbohydrates. Yay whole wheat pasta!!!
  • Use the glycemic index (glycemicindex.com) to find your favorite high, moderate, and low GI foods and how they fit into your nutrient needs.
  • Choose unprocessed, whole grains, fruits and vegetables as sources. Make sure your carbs are full of the nutrients your body needs.

Protein Basics
  • Proteins are amino acids that the body uses to repair body tissue after hard, long events. They also are needed to produce hemoglobin (in red blood cells) that transport oxygen to our working muscles. When the body runs out of carbohydrate energy, it taps into protein reserves for energy. Protein also maintains our water balance.
  • 0.6-0.9 grams of protein for each one pound of your body weight is adequate. Err on the higher side if the workout was muscularly taxing.
  • Make sure to have a carb rich diet, as we don’t want to burn protein as our main energy source. 
  • Lean dairy and animal meat products, soy, beans, lentils and some whole grains are excellent protein sources.

Fat Basics
Boy, does fat make things taste good! Not only do fats improve taste and quality of foods, they also are needed components of an endurance athlete’s diet. 
  • We must have good lean fats in order to maintain good cholesterol levels, for growth, reproduction and integrity of our body cells, vitamin absorption and transport and finally….
  • Fat is our most CONCENTRATED RESERVE OF ENERGY! After our carb stores are depleted, usually very quickly within the beginning of our exercise event, our body turns to the stored energy reserves found in fat. Without fat the body turns to protein to provide energy. This has serious repercussions on performance and recovery.
  • 20-25% of our caloric intake should be fat. Make sure the fat is healthy, unsaturated and contains omega 3 fatty acids.
  • Fats that are liquid at room temperature and even lower temps are good for us: olive oil, coconut oil, canola oil, peanut oil, fish oil. Avocado, eggs, lean dairy, lean meat, etc. are excellent sources of healthy fat.

So there is your basic nutrition run down. Next blog post I will focus on periodization (an organized approach to training), carb loading and recovery.

Stay healthy my friends and Happy Fall Y’all!

For Jessica’s previous posts about fitness, use the blog’s search box, above on the right, and type in Jessica Poole.  To learn more about Gwinnett Medical Center’s complete sports medicine program, including our Running Clinic, visit gwinnettmedicalcenter.org.

1.      Ryan, M. (2012). Sports nutrition for endurance athletes. Velo.


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