A huge part of prepping your body for endurance training involves fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods and eating the right foods at the right time. More times than not, nutrition is the last thing looked at when training for an event. So much focus goes into the physical training, that nutrition is often an afterthought. However, the truth is that nutrition plays an equally important role since how well your body performs ultimately depends on how well nourished your body is.

If you are an endurance athlete looking for some solid guidelines to follow to nourish your body for optimal athletic performance, keep reading.

Here are seven nutrition guidelines all endurance athletes need to know.


7 Nutrition Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

#1 Know How to Eat to Fuel Training:

Knowing what foods to eat and when to eat them is an essential part of fueling your body properly prior to training. Endurance athletes are prone to depleting glycogen stores. Glycogen is a type of glucose that is stored in the body, (mostly in the liver and muscles) that is used for later use when it is not needed immediately. Endurance athletes can quickly deplete these glycogen stores if they are not balancing their diet properly before training. This can lead to fatigue and poor fitness performance.

What you consume before training will make a huge difference when it comes to how well you perform and how long you are able to maintain your energy. It is recommended that endurance athletes properly hydrate, and consume a carbohydrate-rich meal a few hours before training or event. These carbohydrates will help to replenish glycogen stores and keep your blood sugar levels stable prior to exercise. A general rule of thumb is to consume 0.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight.

#2 Understand Your Nutritional Demands During Exercise:

Endurance athletes also need to be cautious of how their body can quickly deplete those glycogen stores during long periods of activity. It’s for this reason, that fueling your body during exercise also plays an important role in how well you perform and how much energy you are able to sustain.

Evidence shows that 0.7g/kg/hour of carbohydrate consumption during exercise has very positive performance benefits. This equals out to be roughly 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.

#3 The Role of Healthy Fats to Promote Exercise-Recovery:

Many athletes get hung up on how many carbs and how much protein to add to their diet, that fat often gets forgotten and put to the wayside. However, fats play a very important role in exercise recovery as well. Fat serves as an excellent energy source and can help you maintain your ideal weight. If you don’t add enough fat to your diet, you may run the risk of losing too much weight, and not being able to maintain adequate energy levels for your endurance training.

You will want to consume healthy fats and make sure you are getting enough essential fatty acids, and consume enough fat to help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in your diet. Some great source of essential fatty acids include wild-caught salmon, walnuts, flax, and chia seeds.

#4 Enjoy a Balanced Diet:

Many endurance athletes feel the need to supplement to help support their nutritional needs. However, this has not been found to be true if endurance athletes are maintaining energy levels and their ideal weight by getting a wide variety of whole foods in their diet. Athletes who restrict their diets, or are simply not eating enough variety, on the other hand, may require vitamin and mineral supplements to help support their body optimally.

Keep in mind that food should always come first before any type of supplement as the vitamins and minerals from food sources are going to be better absorbed and better utilized than if you were to solely rely on supplementation.

#5 Optimize Your Protein Intake:

Protein plays an important role in both pre-fuel and post-fuel nutrition for endurance athletes. Proteins play a massive role in the various functions of our body! It has been found that including some protein into your training may be able to help boost fitness performance. However, it is also important not to overdo your protein intake as this can lead to digestive distress.

Here are some general protein guidelines to follow:

During Training: ½-¾ grams of protein/lb. of body weight per day during your training period.

The Meal Before Your Event: Two to three hours before your event, strive to get 10-20 grams of high-quality protein in.

During Your Event: If you are exercising or training for longer than four hours, it is recommended that you get about five grams of protein per hour to help support performance and replenish your body.

Recovery: Right after your event, you will want to replenish your body by getting about 10-20 grams of protein from a post-workout meal.

#6 Enjoy Endurance Training Superfoods:

Superfoods can make a great addition to any healthy diet, and enjoying certain foods during your training or even after an athletic event or during race day can certainly support exercise performance.

Some great options for athletes include: Nuts, flax and chia seeds, avocados, dates, coconut, bananas, sweet potatoes, quinoa, rolled oats, dark leafy greens.

All of these foods are incredibly nutrient-dense and can provide the body with energy and essential vitamins and minerals.

#7 Monitor Hydration Status:

While the foods you eat play an essential role in your body’s ability to maintain optimal health for fitness performance, hydration is just as important. Staying on top of hydration is one of the most vital parts of fueling your body before, during, and after training as dehydration can be detrimental to overall health, but it can also interfere with exercise performance.

When it comes to endurance athletes the general rule of thumb of drinking eight glasses of water per day isn’t such a great guideline. Endurance athletes need more than that since we are so active and lose a ton of fluid through sweat. For this reason, we need to replenish what we lose.

Everyone will be slightly different in terms of how much they will need to drink, but you will learn what your body needs if you pay attention to signs and symptoms that your body may require more hydration. Watch out for things like dizziness, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and the color of your urine. Yes, the color of your urine is a great indicator of how hydrated you are! You definitely don’t want dark colored urine, as this indicates the need for additional water. Pay attention to all of these signs, and up your water intake if you notice any of these red flags.

Endurance athletes will also need beverages that contain some form of carbohydrate as well as electrolytes during training as well as competition. You will want to make sure you are drinking during the period of exercise as opposed to just before and after to make sure you are staying well hydrated and to prevent total electrolyte depletion. Many studies have found that proper hydration will boost performance, so make sure you are hydrating adequately to feel your best.

With that being said, too much of a good thing isn’t always the right answer either. Too much water consumption can lead to hyponatremia as well as sodium depletion. To help prevent this, it is recommended that endurance athletes rebalance the fluid lost through intense exercise with water that contains 4-8% of a carb solution as well as electrolytes.

The Takeaway

The bottom line is that nutrition matters, and it matters in a big way. Your overall athletic performance will depend on how well fueled your body is, so focus on quality and remember to fuel and refuel when your body needs. Hydration is also key, so stay on top of hydration to support better performance and endurance.

Follow these seven nutrition guidelines to further improve your endurance training and feel your best both during and after training!

If you’re looking to learn more about sports nutrition, create flexible, sustainable, and indefinite habits when it comes to healthy food choices, and have a knowledgable Coach in your corner throughout the process, check out our Nutrition Coaching program.

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Resources

  1. Pre-Event Nutrition Game Plan. US. Human Kinetics. https://us.humankinetics.com/blogs/excerpt/pre-event-nutrition-game-plan
  1. Carlsohn A. Recent Nutritional Guidelines for Endurance Athletes. German Journal of Sports Medicine. https://www.germanjournalsportsmedicine.com/archive/archive-2016/issue-1/recent-nutritional-guidelines-for-endurance-athletes/#l37  
  1. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002822309000066?via%3Dihub
  1. Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/nutrition-for-endurance-athletes-101/
  1. Von Duvillard, Braun WA, Markofki M, Beneke R, Leithauser R. Fluids and Hydration in Prolonged Endurance Performance. (2004) NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15212747

Shayne Gaffney

About the Author Shayne Gaffney

Shayne holds a bachelors degree in Health Science in Professional Development and Advanced Patient Care, is a licensed physical therapy assistant in Massachusetts, a USA Cycling Level 1 (expert level) certified Coach, a USA Cycling Power Based Training certified Coach, Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified Coach, a US Military Endurance Sports (USMES) affiliated Coach, and USA Olympic Committee Safe Sport certified. He is the owner and head Coach of GC Coaching, Workout Content Editor at Zwift, the creator of P2 Coached Computraining, and the creator of Zwift’s “Build Me Up” Flexible Training Plan. He has been published in Bicycling Magazine, the TrainingPeaks blog, and Zwift Insider. He can be contacted directly via info@gaffneycyclingcoaching.com

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