Blog

Nutrient Timing: Paramount for Endurance Athletes

Nutrient Timing

Eating the right foods to support endurance training is just one piece to the puzzle. When you eat matters too. Nutrient timing is such an important part of endurance training and supporting your body with the right foods at the right time, but it is also a big topic of confusion as there never seems to be a clear-cut answer as to when exactly you should eat.  

In this article, I am going to clear up the confusion and dive into what nutrient timing is, why it’s so important, and what the science says about exactly when endurance athletes should eat.

Nutrient Timing

What is Nutrient Timing?

Nutrient timing sounds pretty simple, but it can be a bit complex. It’s about knowing when the best time to eat is before, during, and after training as well as what to eat. It is used to help support your body through endurance training for optimal athletic performance. But, nutrient timing is also focused on looking at how different foods impact your body at different times, which we will be covering next, so keep reading. 

Why Does Nutrient Timing Matter?

Nutrient timing can play a super important role in endurance training as you are literally fueling your body before training, replacing what has been lost through sweat, and providing additional fuel to keep blood sugar levels stabilized. Nutrient timing also involves eating to help replenish depleted glycogen stores and supporting muscle recovery.

Without eating the right foods at the right time, you run the risk of reduced stamina, low blood sugar, poor muscle recovery, and overall poor athletic performance.  

In addition to supporting the body for optimal athletic performance and recovery, here are some of the other benefits of nutrient timing. 

  • Improves overall health.
  • Supports nutrient positions-this is all about where the nutrients are going once you eat them.  
  • Supports better energy balance. 
Nutrient Timing

The Best Time for Endurance Athletes to Eat 

So, what does all of this mean for the kinds of food endurance athletes should be eating and when they should be eating them?

Let’s take a closer look at what and when endurance athletes should eat, based on the nutrient timing model.  

Fueling Before Training: 

When to Eat Before Training: It is so important to fuel your body before training, and it’s important to eat 30-60 minutes before training begins. 

What to Eat Before Training: So, what should you be eating before training? It is best to enjoy a carbohydrate-rich snack that is around 200-300 calories. You will want to stick to carbohydrate-rich foods and try to avoid anything that is too high in fiber or too high in dietary fat as they can be harder on the digestive system. Some great choices include sweet potatoes, oatmeal, bananas, brown rice pasta, unsweetened Greek yogurt with granola and raw honey. You want to provide your body with an easier source of fuel that will be used directly for energy support during training. 

It is also important to hydrate your body. Ideally, you will want to start hydrating 2-4 hours before you start your training and then continue to drink water throughout exercise, ideally containing some Skratch powder.  

Fueling During Training:

When to Eat During Training: When it comes to endurance training, you will need to replenish your body with a fuel source along with staying hydrated. Studies have shown that athletes need to consume carbohydrates throughout training if they are active for longer than 1-2 hours. The studies have shown that adequate carbohydrate intake for endurance athletes training for 1-2 hours would be 30 grams of carbs per hour, 60 grams of carbs per hour for training 2-3 hours, and 90 grams of carbs per hour if you are training longer than 2.5 hours. As you can see, the longer you train, the more carbohydrates you will need. Be warned though, once you start approaching 90 grams per hour, you have a higher risk of digestive problems. So, practice before the event / race to see what your individual tolerance to carbohydrate absorption is. Some of my athletes can consume 110+ grams per hour with no problem, where others are lucky to ingest 60 grams.

Studies have also found that high-quality carbohydrates boost physical performance. High-quality carbs are what fuels and sustains an endurance athletes energy levels. High-quality carbs have been found to provide muscles with energy needed for endurance training. 

Protein also plays an important role during training as it can help prevent muscle breakdown. To help support the body’s protein requirements, strive to get 20 grams of protein in during long periods (over 2 hours) of training, but don’t consume all 20 grams at once. Try to stay below five grams of protein per hour of training to help reduce the chance of digestive upset. 

What to Eat During Training: To help support your muscles and energy levels during training, you can snack on things like grass-fed jerky for protein, and whole-foods bars made with fruits and whole grains for carbs. Bananas and other low-fiber fruits like melons can also make a good carbohydrate fuel source.

Nutrient Timing

Refueling After Training: 

When to Eat After Training: After training is when your body really needs to refuel and replenish those depleted glycogen stores. Eating after intense exercise is also essential for proper muscle as well as tissue recovery. To help support muscle recovery through muscle protein synthesis and to replenish glycogen stores, it is important to eat a protein-rich meal with some complex carbohydrates as soon as you are finished training. Ideally, your meal should contain 20-25 grams of protein after endurance training. 

A meal rich in carbohydrates that is easily absorbed and digested right after intense exercise can also help support what’s called glycogen resynthesis which involves glycogen replenishment post endurance training. Studies have found that endurance athletes can achieve total muscle glycogen resynthesis within 24 hours when consuming an average of 500-700 grams of carbohydrates over that time frame. 

Since glycogen resynthesis tends to be at its peak within the first two hours after training, you can boost glycogen resynthesis by consuming 0.70g glucose/kg body weight every two hours. 

What to Eat After Training: A great way to get both protein and carbs is to make a nutrient-dense post workout shake which contains:

  • Unsweetened almond milk.
  • Unsweetened raw cacao powder.
  • Some full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt.
  • A frozen banana.
  • You can add a tablespoon of pure maple syrup and some added superfoods like chia or flaxseeds as well.

Drinking this immediately after training will help support both muscle recovery and provide your body with the carbohydrates it needs to support those depleted glycogen stores. It also makes a really easy and convenient way of getting your carbohydrates and protein in without having to make a meal immediately after training.  

You will also want to enjoy a balanced meal about two hours after training to continue to help replenish and nourish your body. 

Nutrient Timing

The Importance of Fueling Throughout the Day & On Non-Training Days 

Nourishing your body with optimal nutrition on non-training days is just as important as it will help to support your muscle recovery and nourish your body with what it needs to be in tip-top shape. 

Be sure to consume at least three balanced meals each day with two nutrient-dense snacks in between. Meals should have a balance of complex carbs, clean protein, and healthy fats. Snacks can include things like two hard-boiled eggs with a side of fruit, or a half of an avocado sprinkled with sea salt. 

The Takeaway 

To help sum this all up, here’s a breakdown of what you need to know. 

  • Eat 30-60 minutes before training fueling up with a carbohydrate-rich snack between 200-300 calories. 
  • If training for 1-2 hours, consume 30 grams of carbs per hour of training, 60 grams of carbs per hour for training 2-3 hours, and 90 grams of carbs per hour if training for more than 2.5 hours. 
  • Strive to get 20 grams of protein in during long periods of training, getting five grams of protein per hour of training to avoid digestive upset. 
  • Post training, try to eat right away and consume 20-25 grams of protein and 0.07g of glucose/kg of bodyweight every two hours. 

Nutrition plays such a critical role in how well your body performs when it comes to endurance training, and nutrient timing can be such a useful tool in helping your body function at its best. Try implementing these tips and time your meals and snacks appropriately to get the most out of your training. Many athletes are surprised at how much better they feel before, during, and after training with just a few adjustments to when and what they eat. 

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.


Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:

Resources 

  1. Ryan Andrews. Precision Nutrition. All About Nutrient Timing. 
  1. Friedman JE, Neufer PD, Dohm GL. Regulation of Glycogen Resynthesis Following Exercise. Dietary Considerations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1901662 
  1. Asker Jeukendrup. A Step Towards Personalized Sports Nutrition: Carbohydrate Intake During Exercise. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008807/ 
  1. Kimberly Mueller, MS, RD, CSSD. The Triathlete’s Guide to Protein. http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2016/01/triathletes-guide-to-protein.aspx#axzz5dd91yc5x 
  1. An Athlete’s Guide to Everyday Nutrient Timing. https://www.hprc-online.org/articles/an-athlete-s-guide-to-everyday-nutrient-timing 

FTP: Why Does it Matter?

A gray area surrounds our use of the term “anaerobic threshold”, and especially in endurance sports where FTP is commonly used to describe it. Conflicting opinions exist on what actually constitutes the anaerobic threshold. Terms like lactate threshold and OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation) are used interchangeably with anaerobic threshold—and for good reason. Outside of a research setting, those using these terms are all attempting to describe the same thing. The point where exercise intensity can no longer be maintained. It’s like the tipping point of exercise. Similar to hitting your 25th birthday—the ball starts rolling out of control and it’s all downhill from there. In this incredible moment of exercise a spectacular number of changes to your physiology occur. 

 Seemingly all at once…

”there is nonlinear steep increase in ventilation, known as ventilatory anaerobic threshold, a non linear increase in blood lactate concentration, known as lactate threshold , a non linear increase in CO2 production, an increase in end tidal oxygen, an increase in CO2 production, an arterial lactate level of 4 mM/L, known as onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA), and an abrupt increase of FEO2 (expired O2 fraction).” 1

 What does this all mean?— It means your body isn’t keeping up with the demands of the activity you’re doing.

Bicycle race

 What is Anaerobic Threshold?

 If you’re an endurance athlete, you’re all too familiar with your anaerobic threshold. Your legs start to burn, catching your breath becomes more difficult—you can’t maintain this speed. Once beyond your AT it’s only a matter of time before you become exhausted or you must slow down.

 Staying just below anaerobic threshold is the max level an athlete can work at for a long time without experiencing a significant increase in blood lactate levels.

 Increased blood lactate levels are a marker showing that your mitochondrial respiration is falling behind in production of ATP. Without the necessary amounts of ATP (energy) we can’t maintain that level of exercise.

 The “father” of the term anaerobic threshold made this statement in his original paper on the subject:

“The onset of anaerobic metabolism during exercise can thus be detected in three ways: (1) as an increase in the lactate concentration in blood, (2) as a decrease in arterial blood bicarbonate and pH and (3) as an increase in the respiratory gas exchange ratio (R).”

-Karlman Wasserman

 This was written in 1964. Since then the understanding of anaerobic threshold and how it impacts performance has been developed and refined—but this statement still holds true.

Man riding bicycle

How Anaerobic Threshold Limits Performance

 Most endurance athletes are familiar with the importance of their Vo2 – it’s a representation of your aerobic ability. But perhaps anaerobic threshold is an even more important factor in your performance.

Vo2 max is a measurement of how much oxygen your working muscles can consume at their highest capacity. Having a high Vo2 shows you have a high cardiovascular potential—your body can deliver large amounts of oxygen to your muscles. This is an important aspect of performing at a high level—but what it doesn’t tell us is what percentage of your Vo2 you can maintain for an extended period. That’s what anaerobic threshold tells us.

This means it’s possible for an athlete with a Vo2 max of 50ml/kg/min to outperform an athlete with a Vo2 max of 57ml/kg/min. It all depends on when they reach threshold. Threshold levels range drastically across training statuses, with untrained individuals having the lowest relative levels and elite athletes having the highest.

Average people hit their anaerobic threshold around 50-60% of the Vo2 max, while trained athletes don’t experience threshold until 70-80% of their max. And elite athletes? Some don’t reach anaerobic threshold until 90-95% of their Vo2 max. 

Anaerobic threshold, bicycle race

Common Tests to Estimate Anaerobic Threshold / FTP

Outside of a laboratory setting its difficult to precisely pinpoint the level at which you reach anaerobic threshold, but there are several ways of getting an accurate estimate.

Old Faithful – The 20 Minute Test

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes.
  • Ride ALL OUT for 20 minutes.
  • Record what your average power was for the 20 minutes.
  • Multiply that number by .95.
  • Voila!  You have your FTP.

This is the most common test used currently, and probably the one you’ll see during your workout plans.  Remember though, if you have a strong anaerobic capacity, or are a new rider, you can have an inflated result.  I suggest going hard and over-pacing the test for the first 3 minutes to exhaust your creatine phosphate system, and to decrease the anaerobic system energy contribution, to hopefully see your power drop and eventually plateau to your true FTP.  Ideally you’ll see a gradually increasing heart rate and subsequent power drop for the first 3-5 minutes, then a plateau for the final 15 minutes at your actual FTP.

2x 8 Minutes Test

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes.
  • Ride ALL OUT for 8 minutes.
  • Rest for 10 minutes.
  • Ride ALL OUT for 8 minutes.
  • Record what your average power was for both 8 minute tests.
    • Add both of the averages together, and divide by 2.
  • Multiply that number by .90.
  • Voila!  You have your FTP.

This testing protocol is the least accurate, in my experience, however
In 2007, Klika et al. demonstrated that a cycling based field test was found to be accurate and repeatable in estimating threshold levels. This test is relatively simple to complete.  Test participants are asked to cycle for 8 minutes, between 80-100RPM at the gear of their choice. This was shown to produce about the same power output associated with lactate threshold in a laboratory setting. At the end of the 8 minutes, record your heart rate. That heart rate should be close to your threshold level.

The Ramp Test (Max Aerobic Power, MAP).

  • Warm up for 10-15 minutes.
  • Having a smart trainer makes life much easier here.
    • I start my athletes off at 60% of their FTP, and increase by 8% every minute or 2 (based on athlete fitness), until failure is reached.
    • Once you settle into a cadence of your choice you must maintain that cadence, or pedal faster, throughout the rest of the test. For instance, if you ride at 90 RPM for the test you can’t then have your cadence fall off to 85, 80 and even 75 RPM in the final stages. Once you can’t maintain your cadence the test is over, but you must push to the point of failure and not give up!

You are looking for a heart rate inflection point for this test.  The inflection point signals the lactate threshold (FTP) and can be very hard to see in my experience.  Another way is to take the last COMPLETED step of the test, and multiply this by .75.  This test is also called a Conconi Test.

Outside of a laboratory setting, it’s difficult to precisely pinpoint the level at which you reach anaerobic threshold, but hopefully the test examples above help your estimate become a bit more accurate.

Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:


References:

  1. A.K.Ghosh. Anaerobic threshold: its concept and role in endurance sport.Malays J. Med. Sci., 11 (2004), pp. 24-36
  2. Wasserman, K., and M. B. McIlroy. Detectingthe threshold of anaerobic metabolism. Am. J. Cardiol. 14: 844-852, 1964.
  3. KlikaRJ, Alderdice MS, Kvale JJ, Kearney JT. Efficacy of cycling training based on apower field test. J Strength Cond Res. Feb 2007;21(1):265 – 269.

Developing an Intuitive Eating Plan for Weight Loss

Your commitment to fitness takes up a lot of your time. The time that you’ve spent training and preparing for certain events have required you to remain disciplined. You may have even trained multiple times a day to keep up with the demand. It’s no easy feat to continue this trend day in and day out, as friends and family may not understand or even support this dedication.

And worst of all, that’s just the training aspect of it all. What about the role that nutrition plays? If anything, this will eat up (pun actually intended) even more of your time then the training does. I mean, you’re training for 1-3 hours per day, while the rest of your remaining hours are spent on recovery and, well, eating. What you put into your body is very important, and could drastically affect your performance.

However, good thing is that we have total control over what we put into our mouths. And even better, we don’t have to meticulously count every single calorie that goes into our bodies either. There’s something out there that’s much more practical…

Intuitive Eating

What exactly is intuitive eating? Well, it can be generally defined as eating in response to physical hunger signals that your body gives you, as opposed to emotional or other external cues [1].

The great thing about this style of eating is that more and more scientific literature is being released on the topic in regards to its superiority over calorie-counting diets, such as its benefits for psychological as well as physical health benefits [2]. For example, a sample of former female collegiate athletes described their experience with intuitive eating as drastically reducing their anxiety levels about both their food choices, along with their appearance and performance [3].

As for physical benefits, the athletes were “better able to listen to their bodies” and have a better sense of what hunger and satiety (feeling of fullness) actually feels like. In essence, this allowed the athletes to become more in tune with their bodies and provide it the nourishment that it needed to perform, without resorting to any form of disordered eating.

How Do I Start?

Okay, now that you know why you should consider intuitively eating to benefit both your physical and mental health, as well as boost your performance, how do you even know where to start? Well, we’ll want to start out by learning how to assess when we’re truly hungry and satisfied. We can use a simple scale of 1-10 to assess this. There’s no exact scientific literature on this type of a scale, but it can be used as a practical guide to familiarize yourself with this style of eating, as it may be difficult to grasp at first. It would look a little something like this:

1 Extremely Hungry
2 Very Hungry
3 Hungry
4 Slightly Hungry
5 Satisfied, but could still eat more
6 Satisfied
7 Full
8 Too full
9 Extremely Full
10 Nauseous

Although this scale seems quite simplistic, it gets the job done. It’s easy to remember, which makes it much more practical. And practicality is what intuitive eating is all about.

Volume vs. Density

One of the most important aspects of intuitively eating are the two concepts of volume and density. When we’re talking about food, each food has a different volume: density ratio. Now, don’t think of these ratios as numbers, rather, think of them as more of a cost: benefit ratio sort of thing.

Let’s dig a little deeper. So volume is the amount of space the food takes up in your stomach, while density is the actual amount of energy (calories) that you’re obtaining from it. The “density” factor is the only one that influences our weight, not volume. The weight and volume of the physical food itself will not influence your weight whatsoever. Knowing this, for weight loss, we should eat foods that are high in volume and low in density. Ideally, we want to keep this “ratio” in favor of volume over density.

This will help to keep us full and satiated, while also keeping our calories as low as we can (healthfully, of course, we still want to get in enough calories to function and perform well). Low-energy and high-volume foods tend to have higher levels of water, fiber, and protein content. It’s been shown that those who eat a majority of these kinds of foods in their diet resulted in feeling fuller for longer compared to those who ate mostly high-density foods [4].

An Issue That Needs To Be Discussed

One issue that does need to be brought up is about self-control. This is usually only a problem that is witnessed when first starting out. Athletes will begin their weight loss journey, but because they’re eating intuitively, they have no set plan. They kind of just “wing it”, and I REALLY want you to avoid this.

Nothing good has ever come from just “winging it”. Intuitively eating is still a type of eating plan. It still requires discipline and especially the knowledge to know what foods will aid your performance and weight loss efforts the most. However, what you also have to realize is the vast amount of knowledge you will gain from this, including:

  • How certain foods make your body perform
  • Which foods keep you full for longer, while knowing which ones don’t
  • Knowing what truly being hungry and full really feels like

I suggest keeping a food log and jotting down any relevant information that will make your food choices easier. Over time, you’ll come up with a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts and understand what foods work best for you and your body.

Conclusion

Definitely different from meticulous diet tracking, I know. But it can absolutely help you on your weight loss journey. Life is full of events that may throw us off track and alter our schedules and ways of life, and our diets are extremely susceptible to this.

But what I really want you to take away from this is that this is probably one of the most educational diets out there. As cliche as it may sound, knowledge is truly power. Being armed with the knowledge to be able to adapt to various situations; social events, injury, food availability, the list goes on. You’ll be ready for it because utilizing an intuitive eating diet helped you to learn about your mind, body and the food you put into it.

Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:


References

  1. Horwath, C., Hagmann, D., & Hartmann, C. (2019). Intuitive eating and food intake in men and women: Results from the Swiss food panel study. Appetite, 135, 61-71. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2018.12.036
  2. Mensinger, J. L., Calogero, R. M., Stranges, S., & Tylka, T. L. (2016). A weight-neutral versus weight-loss approach for health promotion in women with high BMI: A randomized-controlled trial. Appetite, 105, 364-374. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2016.06.006
  3. Plateau, C. R., Petrie, T. A., & Papathomas, A. (2016). Learning to eat again: Intuitive eating practices among retired female collegiate athletes. Eating Disorders, 25(1), 92-98. doi:10.1080/10640266.2016.1219185
  4. Buckland N. J., Stubbs R. J., Finlayson G. (2015). Towards a satiety map of common foods: Associations between perceived satiety value of 100 foods and their objective and subjective attributes. Physiology & Behavior, 152, 340–346.

Why ‘Counting Calories’ is a Complete Waste of Your Time (usually)

In order to become a great athlete, you must train like one, right? Well, yes, but that’s only part of the equation. In fact, I’d say it’s less than half of it. You might have heard the old adage “It’s 30% training and 70% nutrition that makes you win the battle”. I believe this to be 100% true (see what I did there?).

What we put into our bodies has a direct effect on our performance and body composition, in conjunction with our training. Calories, carbs, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, the whole 9 yards; these all play a vital role in the optimization of our training and achieving the body composition we’re seeking. However, if you’re counting Calories and plateauing, you are wasting your time and not creating an energy deficit… Here, we’ll go into the body composition aspect a bit more, and go ‘against the grain’ speaking about:

  • Calorie Counting: Why it’s a complete waste of time (in our opinion).
  • Energy Deficit & Energy Surplus.
    • The Effects of Dieting.
  • Intuitive Eating.

Calorie Counting: Should You Even Do It?

Ahh yes, counting some good ole’ calories. As an athlete, you know you should be doing it. You know it’s going to get you where you want to go. Or will it?

Research that has been released within the last couple of decades appears to doubt the efficacy of meticulous calorie counting. One study that monitored cyclists during the Tour de France event discovered that the relationship between energy expenditure (energy output) and food intake (energy input) was closer after 3-5 days rather than 1-2 days [1]. In other words, the variation of input vs. output didn’t matter as much in terms of weight loss after a day or two compared to a longer duration of time (almost a week long). Therefore, the concept of weight loss or gain should be viewed over the periods of weeks and months, rather than hours and days. The long-term is what matters the most.

Also, there is a significant psychological factor that plays a part in calorie counting that should be considered. One study found that constantly counting calories as opposed to simply eating intuitively (an eating style that promotes “listening to your body” through physiological signals such as hunger and satisfaction) promoted greater incidences and severity of eating disorders [2]. Now, as athletes, it can be assumed that incidences of this would be less than they are in a younger population such as the one in the aforementioned study (which was a college population). However, eating disorders are a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly, especially for the athlete. If an athlete were to develop any type of eating disorder, not only would it negatively hinder their performance, but also would negatively impact their overall health, as it would put them in danger of fatal or near-fatal incidences such as electrolyte imbalances and malnourishment.

Energy Deficit & Energy Surplus

It’s pretty simple; you need to eat in a calorie (energy) surplus in order to gain weight and you need to eat in a calorie (energy) deficit to lose weight. Not that hard, right? Well, it actually isn’t that simple.

The Effects of Dieting

There are several hormones that are involved in regulating your hunger levels. Your body was built to survive, not necessarily thrive. Because of this, it wants to protect you, even if that means costing you your performance.

The two primary hunger hormones; leptin and ghrelin, both act as opposites to one another to regulate appetite. Leptin acts to reduce food intake and increase energy expenditure (happens when you’re full) and vice versa with ghrelin (acts when you’re hungry). Time and time again, it has been shown that calorie restriction results in a rapid reduction in levels of leptin and energy expenditure, thus, an increase in appetite (due to increases in ghrelin) [3].

Surprisingly, one systematic review of weight loss studies illustrated that between ⅓ and ⅔ of dieters actually regained more weight than they initially lost! [4]. This is where the term “yo-yo dieting” comes from.

Okay, So What’s The Answer Then?

So if counting calories and dieting isn’t the answer, then how do we get into the shape we need to for our events if our bodies are just going to fight us back? Just a second, it may be simpler than we actually thought.

We need to think outside the scope of just counting calories. We know that caloric intake over the short-term is unlikely to have a significant impact on our weight. We should only look at our short-term nutrition for the benefits of our training sessions, such as pre- and post-training nutrition. We also know that an energy deficit over the long-term is what will get us where we want to go. But how do we get there?

Food Density and Volume

We need to take into consideration two factors about food; density and volume. A foods’ density is its caloric content, while its volume is how much space the food takes up, more specifically the space it takes up in your stomach. Foods such as fruits and vegetables have a much greater volume: density ratio than higher calorie foods such as fatty meats, pastries, butter, sugar, etc.

Knowing this, we can implement these high volume, low-density foods into an intuitive eating plan. Low-energy and high-density foods tend to have higher levels of water, fiber, and protein content. In fact, those who eat a majority of these types of foods in their diets result in feeling fuller for longer compared to those who ate mostly high-density foods [5]. I’d say a good rule of thumb is to use what’s called the “80/20 rule”; 80% of the time you stick to high-volume and low-density foods and the other 20% of the time you can eat more dense foods such as oils, nut butter, etc.

Conclusion

Give intuitive eating a shot. In today’s day and age of constant tracking; both with our nutrition via calorie-counting apps such as MyFitnessPal and training through wearable technologies, it may seem to be “going against the grain”, which it is. But we have solid evidence to back up why intuitive eating may be the better strategy. So try it, and let us know what happens!

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.

Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:


References

  1. Saris W. H. M. (1997). Limits of human endurance: Lessons from the Tour de France. In Kinney J. M., Tucker H. N., editors. (Eds.), Physiology, stress, and malnutrition: Functional correlates, nutritional intervention (pp. 451–462). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott-Raven.
  2. Romano, K. A., Becker, M. A., Colgary, C. D., & Magnuson, A. (2018). Helpful or harmful? The comparative value of self-weighing and calorie counting versus intuitive eating on the eating disorder symptomology of college students. Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 23(6), 841-848. doi:10.1007/s40519-018-0562-6
  3. Oetjen, E. (2012). Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss. Yearbook of Endocrinology, 2012, 22-23. doi:10.1016/j.yend.2012.03.060
  4. Mann T., Tomiyama A. J., Westling E., Lew A. M., Samuels B., Chatman J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62, 220–233.
  5. Buckland N. J., Stubbs R. J., Finlayson G. (2015). Towards a satiety map of common foods: Associations between perceived satiety value of 100 foods and their objective and subjective attributes. Physiology & Behavior, 152, 340–346.

Strength Training Programming for Endurance Athletes

In my last article, I discussed WHY it’s so important to implement strength training into your endurance training regime about 2-3x per week, especially during your preparation phase. Then I gave you a little preview of what such a resistance-training program would look like.

Well, in this installment, I’ll dive in deeper into HOW you can structure your very own strength training program that best suits your specific endurance training goals. We will be going over example training protocols for:

  • Long-Distance Runners
  • Cyclists
  • Cross-Country Skiers
  • Long-Distance Triathletes

After examining the rhyme and reason as to why these plans are structured the way they are, you’ll be able to copy these exact workouts to introduce yourself to the world of strength training. After you gain the necessary experience, you’ll be able to tailor any of these programs to your specific needs and preferences!


Long-Distance Runners

A systematic review, which is a collection of many studies that are used in order to come to a conclusion, found that the most significant improvements found in running after strength training was best illustrated in time-trial performance, running economy, and surprisingly even VO2 max [1]. However, it’s important to note that improvements in VO2 max were only seen with explosive and reactive-strength training, which are essentially ways of training for both power and strength, as opposed to just strength.

This type of training consisted of sprinting, jumping, and strength training exercises. Examples of these types of exercises included

  • Running sprints (5-10 sets of 30-150 meters each)
  • Jumping exercises (calf jumps, hurdle jumps, squat jumps)
  • Isolation exercises (knee extensions, knee flexions)

The primary principle that the subjects followed during this time was a focus on low loads and high-performance velocities [2].Because of this, if we want to primarily increase our VO2 max levels, which is the priority of many long-distance runners, then training for power first and strength second would be the best move here.

Example Training Program for Runners

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Sprints 5 100 meters 30 seconds
Squat Jumps 2 15 30 seconds
Squats 2 15, 20 30 seconds
Knee Extensions 2 20 30 seconds
Knee Flexions 2 20 30 seconds

Cyclists

Optimal training for cyclists is going to look quite a bit different than for what’s best for runners. This is due to the greater emphasis on lower musculature strength in cyclists compared to runners.

For cyclists, it’s best to participate in heavy-load strength training. More specifically, maximal velocity should be achieved by the athlete while in the concentric phase (the “lifting-up” phase), as opposed to pure explosive power throughout the entire lift. While a focus on power is still important, placing greater importance on strength will help cyclists to increase maximal velocity during each pedaling cycle.

Example Training Program for Cyclists

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Front Squats 2-3 6-10 90 seconds
Single Leg Stiff-Legged Deadlift 2 8 60 seconds
Bulgarian Split Squat 2-3 8 60 seconds
Kettlebell Swings 2 15-20 30 seconds

Cross-Country Skiing

The primary difference here with cross-country skiers is that they’re going to have to concentrate more so on upper-body strength as opposed to lower-body strength. Exercises that would be included in an optimal protocol are lat-pulldowns and triceps presses [4].

This aforementioned study primarily illustrated to us that strength training shows its improvements most in the double-poling performance of cross-country skiers, as well as time to exhaustion.  This is great news, as this proves to us that performance is able to be maintained even after long-duration exercise.

Since there isn’t nearly as much data available on strength training’s effects on cross-country skiers, practical considerations for sets and reps aren’t as apparent. However, given the nature of the sport, it can be safe to assume that moderate loading and rep ranges would be a well-tolerated. Cross-country skiing doesn’t require as much pure strength as cycling or as much explosiveness as running, so less emphasis can be placed on these variables during the strength training sessions.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Lat Pulldowns 3 10 60 seconds
Dumbell Row 2 per arm 10 60 seconds
Bench Press 2 10-12 60 seconds
Squats 2 10-12 60 seconds
Triceps Pushdown 2 12-15 60 seconds

Long-Distance Triathletes

For these types of athletes, the most significant improvements were found in peak treadmill velocity (VO2 max) following a maximal-strength training intervention [5]. Hopping power (to determine maximal mechanical power) and training economy were shown to improve in the group that performed strength training compared to the group that only performed endurance training.

The training protocol that would be most optimal for this type of athlete would be one that focused on primarily lower-body exercises, such as the leg press, squat, and leg extension, with occasional upper-body exercises thrown in. It’s important for these athletes to train quite heavy; in the 3-5 rep range most of the time, occasionally increasing the reps to avoid injury. These athletes need not be as explosive as the previously mentioned types of athletes. Rather, the focus on strength is more important.

Exercise Sets Reps Rest Time
Barbell Row 2 5 90 seconds
Lunges 3 6-8 60 seconds
Back Squat 2 5 90 seconds
Glute-Ham Raise 2 8 45 seconds
Dips 2 5-8 60 seconds

Important Consideration

It’s important to remember what the common theme is here. In order to increase your endurance performance with strength training, you must follow the theme of what’s called specificity. Basically, specificity is training that involves similar muscle groups and imitates the sports-specific movements of your particular activity [3]. The reasoning behind this is the adaptations that occur in the nervous system during training, as well as structural changes that happen inside the muscle fibers.

Conclusion

Now go give these programs a shot and see for yourself the benefits you’ll see from them. Again, as you become more accustomed to this type of training, you can gradually ramp up the difficulty level by increasing the weights, reps, sets, and decreasing the rest times. After that, you can start to experiment with different exercises so that you can see what works best for you.

Good luck!


Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:


References

1.Beattie, K., Kenny, I., Lyons, M., & Carson, B. (2014). The effect of strength training on performance in endurance athletes. Sports Medicine, 44(6), 845-865. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0157-y.

2.Mikkola, J., Rusko, H., Nummela, A., Pollari, T., & Häkkinen, K. (2007). Concurrent Endurance and Explosive Type Strength Training Improves Neuromuscular and Anaerobic Characteristics in Young Distance Runners. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(7), 602-611. doi:10.1055/s-2007-964849

3. Rønnestad, B. R., & Mujika, I. (2013). Optimizing strength training for running and cycling endurance performance: A review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(4), 603-612. doi:10.1111/sms.12104

4.Øfsteng, S., Sandbakk, Ø, Beekvelt, M. V., Hammarström, D., Kristoffersen, R., Hansen, J., . . . Rønnestad, B. R. (2017). Strength training improves double-poling performance after prolonged submaximal exercise in cross-country skiers. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 28(3), 893-904. doi:10.1111/sms.12990 5. Millet, G., Jaouen, B., Borrani, F., & Candou, R. (2002). Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and .VO(2) kinetics. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 34(8), 1351-1359.

Does Strength Training Improve Endurance Performance?

So, you’re looking to increase your cycling speed, your mile time, or improve whatever other endurance goals that you may have. You bring this up to your friend; a fellow cyclist. He tells you that he’s started to get more serious about lifting weights in the gym and has added a strength training routine to his cycling regimen. “But how would that improve your cycling ability?” you think to yourself. “That doesn’t make much sense.”


Does Strength Training ACTUALLY Help With Your Cycling Abilities?

It actually makes quite a bit of sense. So much so that there are quite a few studies illustrating your friends’ case to be true. In one study of 19 elite female duathletes (meaning that they were both runners and cyclists), they were divided into two groups; either endurance training alone or endurance training combined with strength training. The strength training group performed lower-body exercises such as squats and leg presses, progressing to heavier weights as the 11-week study continued.

What this aforementioned study primarily discovered was that including strength training in conjunction with their endurance regimens was able to increase the athletes’ power output during 5-minute maximal cycling testing. Plus, this was performed in a fatigued state, as they had already performed both the strength training protocol as well as a 180-minute prolonged cycling session beforehand. Another related study with moderately-trained cyclists illustrated a significantly improved cycling economy and time to exhaustion after strength training. So we can definitely see here how strength training can help out with endurance performance!

Not so Fast, my Friend…

Although strength training is a great tool for us endurance athletes, it’s also not going to be your primary training focus. You should always prioritize your cycling-specific training over strength training. I say this because although significant parameters such as cycling economy and time to exhaustion were improved, more important endurance performance variables like VO2 max did not improve. They stayed exactly the same between both the study groups.

How About for Running?

There is much more data available about this than there is for cycling. In fact, there is so much evidence that authors of a 2018 paper were actually able to publish a systematic review on the topic. Basically, a systematic review is the combination of the results of similar studies within the same topic of examination.

Here, it was illustrated that for long-distance runners, running economy was improved by as much as 2-8% in 20 out of the 26 studies. Interestingly, this was seen in runners of all levels of experience; ranging from moderately-trained to elite-level athletes. And although adding strength training won’t improve your VO2 max as previously mentioned, it doesn’t hinder it either. This is a major plus, as there is a commonly misleading belief in the endurance athlete community that participating in strength training will cause a shift in adapting too much to non-aerobic training and will cause them to lose their endurance performance since these are two very different training stimuli. Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The ability to train concurrently, meaning the utilization of two different training methods in order to reap the rewards of both, is definitely possible while mitigating any potential negative effects.

Inter-individual Variability

However, what we do have to keep in mind, just like with the cycling studies, is that inconsistencies do exist in the scientific literature. This is due to several hosts of factors, such as differences in a studies methodologies, which would be the way in which the researcher conducted the study. This would include things such as what variables they measured or what sort of training program they put them through. Also, science has a natural error associated with it due to the number of differences, or what we call in the scientific literature, “inter-individual variability”, between athletes. This is why researchers randomize subjects in their studies, however, although this may limit the effect that this variability plays, it still does exist to a slight degree.

Because of this, applying these previously mentioned strength training recommendations to your routine should be made with caution. Even though “the science” may say it works, everybody is unique and responds optimally to different things, so utilizing trial-and-error here is a must. But you’d be missing out if you didn’t at least try to apply strength training to your endurance routine for at least a 6-week time frame to truly see if it makes a difference in your performance.

How Do I Get Started?

I’d replicate what many of the studies in the systematic review used. In this way, you’d be using a training program that has been previously validated by researchers, which is what you want. This is what most of the studies in the systematic review used for their training programs:

Training Program Basics:

  • 2-6 sets of 3-10 reps per exercise @ 70% of their 1-rep max
  • 2-3x per week on average
  • Utilize at least 1 multi-joint exercise, such as a squat or leg press
  • Use a combination of both free weights and machines
  • Utilized the concept of Progressive Overload, which basically states that you must increasingly challenge your body with each and every workout, such as by increasing weight and reps, decreasing rest time, etc.

I’d start out on the lower end of the set range, such as 2-3 sets for about 8-10 reps, which would allow you to work with lighter weights. In this way, you avoid burnout and you’re more likely to stick with the training program. Then, as you get stronger, you can progress from there.

Conclusion

So give this a shot. Chances are, as illustrated by the vast amount of scientific literature that’s available, it’ll help you improve your endurance performance more than your previously-held beliefs led you to think. The great thing about this is that it doesn’t take much additional time either; only 2-3x per week for about 45-60 minute sessions. This includes approximately 45-60 second rests between sets, so it won’t fatigue you too much, allowing you to keep up the same intensity in your endurance-specific training. Alright, now you’re armed with the tools, now go put it to good use. Let me know how it works out for you!

Looking for a strength and conditioning plan tailor made for endurance athletes? Check out our plan here!


Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog:

References

Blagrove, R. C., Howatson, G., & Hayes, P. R. (2017). Effects of Strength Training on the Physiological Determinants of Middle- and Long-Distance Running Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 48(5), 1117-1149. doi:10.1007/s40279-017-0835-7

Sunde, A., Støren, Ø, Bjerkaas, M., Larsen, M. H., Hoff, J., & Helgerud, J. (2010). Maximal Strength Training Improves Cycling Economy in Competitive Cyclists. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 24(8), 2157-2165. doi:10.1519/jsc.0b013e3181aeb16a

Vikmoen, O., Rønnestad, B. R., Ellefsen, S., & Raastad, T. (2017). Heavy strength training improves running and cycling performance following prolonged submaximal work in well-trained female athletes. Physiological Reports, 5(5). doi:10.14814/phy2.13149

7 Nutrition Guidelines for Endurance Athletes

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.

Subscribe to the GC Coaching Blog


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

Nutrition Coaching with GC Coaching

📣 DIETS DON’T WORK 📣

Lifestyle changes, creating sustainable habits, and working in a community towards a common goal does.

If you are tired of yo-yo diets, fads, and other approaches to weight-loss and performance that just don’t work, join GC Coaching for our next nutrition coaching cohort starting next Monday, January 14th. Our 12 month program features:

▪️ Access to Precision Nutrition’s (PN) world-renowned and proven software, Pro Coach.
▪️ Working with a PN Level 1 Certified Coach.
▪️ A customized eating guide, delivered the first week.
▪️ Monthly Zoom Meetings where we will discuss the current ‘habits’ everyone is working on, as well as answer any questions you may have during the process.
▪️ An ‘always open’ business model that allows for as much communication as needed, through the Pro Coach app, and e-mail.
▪️ Finally succeed with weight loss, develop fueling strategies to improve your event performance, and augment your training and recovery by learning about current best nutrition practices.

For more information, and to sign up, follow this link: https://procoach.app/gc-coaching

If you are ready to finally get off the diet roller coaster, and create sustainable habits, don’t miss out! Our next cohort isn’t until March!

Be sure to message us with any questions you have.

❤️ GC Coaching