Fuel for Endurance Events

Several of my clients have, or are currently training for endurance events ranging from 5K races to obstacle course competitions.   Aside from a robust training plan, proper nutrition plays a critical role in helping prepare the athlete to perform their best.

The following nutritional guidance is from Leslie J. Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine in Pittsburgh  and was published in the NASM Trainers Edge Quarterly Magazine.

1. Before the Event:  Many athletes believe in carb-loading, but Bonci disagrees with this philosophy. “Most people don’t carb load, they carb explode,” she says. Instead, she recommends eating only one additional carbohydrate serving pr meal– such as a small piece of fruit, a slice of bread, or a half-cup of rice– starting three days before a race. “Small amounts of carbohydrates act like a safety net in the gut, helping the muscles store more glycogen and hold onto liquid better,” she says. the night before an event, add a bonus carbohydrate– such as a bowl of cereal or a yogurt parfait.

One additional point to consider: How much do you sweat? If you’re a heavy sweater, add a little more salt to meals. For instance, eat salted crackers or cook rice in broth.

Regardless of hydration, women need a baseline of 90 ounces of fluid a day while men need 125 ounces daily. Yet most athletes don’t need to slug extra fluid during pre-race preparations. not only will the additional carbohydrate servings help hold water, too much water could interrupt sleep.

2. During the Event :  Generally, athletes should eat a meal two to three hours before the event, even if you have to get up, eat, and then return to bed. Aim for 100 grams of carbohydrates, 15 to 20 grams of protein, 10 to 20 grams of fat, and 20 ounces of liquid (preferably water). Heavy sweaters should again add some sodium.

One hour before, athletes should swig another 20 ounces of liquid and consume 30-50 grams of carbohydrates.

Then for the first hour of the event, athletes should stick with water. How much you’ll need through, varies. Knowing your sweat rate can help.

After that first hour, the focus should switch to carbohydrates, but how much again depends on individual needs. generally athletes require anywhere from 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour (most are at the lower end of this spectrum). Whether that comes via sports drinks or gels is up to the athlete. heavy sweaters should include sodium.

3. After the Event:  Within the first 15 to 30 minutes of finishing, consume a recovery snack with about 50 grams of carbohydrates and 12 to 15 grams of protein. Good choices include chocolate milk, yogurt, or a bowl of cereal. Also, focus on rehydrating throughout the day, consuming 24 ounces of liquid per pound of body weight lost.

One surprising post-event recovery food: ginger. “Research suggests that ginger works as an anti-inflammatory to prevent muscle soreness,” Bonci says.

4. All the Time:  While carbohydrates are the main focus leading up to an event, endurance athletes shouldn’t overlook daily protein needs (many are guilty of eating too little). Protein is crucial for increasing the number of oxygen-carrying enzymes in the blood, forming red blood cells, and replacing the body’s protein stores, Bonci says. In general, endurance athletes should consume between 0.6 and 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day.


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