Whether you are new to endurance events or a seasoned athlete, getting your nutrition ‘right’ can be difficult.
If you are making changes to your diet for a marathon in two months time, or simply looking to improve your health and well being, everyone’s diet will be different. We are all unique so there is no broad stroke approach that can be applied to all athletes. Allergies, intolerances and personal preferences all play a part.
Endurance events, like long distance running or cycling, can be very taxing on the body so appropriate nutrition can be the difference between cruising an event and ‘hitting the wall’ half way through. Just always ensure that you are fuelling your health before you fuel exercise performance. If you have any macronutrient or micronutrient deficiencies before getting started, you’re sure to know about it once your training is underway.
The main goal of endurance nutrition is to avoid illness and injury through stresses of training. To be able to maintain sporting performance, you need to ensure you are eating enough to match your energy demands and that you are consuming the right foods to function optimally. I always recommend clients to download a calorie-tracking app and to monitor food intake as this will help highlight any deficiencies. High intensity exercise can temporarily dampen the immune system and getting sick when training can set you back considerably. Add the cold and wet weather of Edinburgh into the mix and you’re just asking for trouble. To limit the chance of getting ill, increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Every meal that you eat should contain two different types of vegetable. Make those salads as colourful as possible and be strict on yourself. Supplementing with a multi-vitamin can be a good addition, particularly during the winter months.
You need to be taking on enough calories to at least maintain your body weight. Buy yourself some weighing scales and keep track. Unless you have a diagnosed illness, your bodyweight is a result of calories in vs. calories out. If your bodyweight is dropping, you are eating fewer calories than your body is burning and you need to eat more. On the other hand, if your bodyweight is increasing, you are consuming too many calories and you may need to address that post-run snickers addiction…
Next: master your protein consumption. When exercising, your body will use any energy source it can to keep going. If you don’t consume enough protein within your diet, the body may resort to breaking down muscle tissue to obtain the amino acids that it needs. You don’t want this to happen. Pounding the pavement for a prolonged period of time will also cause micro tears in muscle fibres that need repairing. This is where protein steps in. To ensure maintenance of lean muscle mass, I recommend between 1.6 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. You can use your calorie-tracking app to monitor this. Real food should always come first, but if you are struggling to consistently eat high quality protein foods, a good whey or vegan protein shake will help make things easier.
Personally, I prefer a diet that is higher in healthy fats. Eating large quantities of daily carbohydrates makes me feel slow and lethargic. I have found a way to eat that I enjoy and that matches my energy demands. However, when completing longer endurance exercise, increasing carbohydrate intake gets the best results. Carbs are the body’s go to energy source. If possible, save those larger portions of pasta or rice for when you finish exercising. This should be your biggest meal of the day. After exercise your muscles become like sponges so this is the time to refill those muscle energy stores and for protein to repair damaged muscle tissue.
Your approach to nutrition should have sustainability in mind. It is all well and good following a set diet plan written by an online coach or personal trainer, but if it doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle or doesn’t include your preferred food sources, then the chances are you won’t stick to it. Your training plan and nutritional approach should compliment your lifestyle. Fuel your body correctly and focus on enjoying your training.