The human body, like any machine, needs high quality fuel in order to function at its very best. For endurance athletes, this is especially critical. Without proper nutrition, an entire season of exercise and training can be entirely wasted. All athletes, from amateurs to Olympians, are now realising that a good diet can make the difference between a new personal best or a did not finish (DNF) result.
Why Nutrition Matters
During training and competing, your body has certain needs which must be met to turn the body into a high-performance machine and the key to this is largely if not entirely proper nutrition. Your body transforms the calories in food into energy you can use and the amount of calories necessary is different for every person dependent on inherent body factors and lifestyle, increasing as you become more active and athletic. In addition to the calories you eat is where you are getting them from is also important.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three macronutrients that provide these calories, and your body will use them in different ways dependent on their chemical composition. By properly proportioning the amount of calories and nutrients you get from these sources, you can fine-tune your diet in order to help you achieve your endurance goals.
Let’s look at each of them in turn.
Carbohydrates, which are broken down and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen can be a limiting factor for endurance athletes. Carbohydrates provide almost half of your total energy needs during intense training and competition. They provide your body with enough fuel for moderate-high intensity training prolonging the time it takes for you to hit “the wall” or “bonk”.
If you are training mid morning, you need to eat carbohydrates early in the day so your body can fuel itself for the coming workload. You then need to replenish them quickly before, during, and after exercise you keep yourself consistently fuelled to be able to perform at your very best.
Protein helps largely with the recovery phase of training and competing, repairing the damage which occurs naturally in muscles during exercise. For most people, the amount of protein needed is around 10-15% of dietary caloric intake, although that number can be highly variable dependent on the intensity and type of exercise.
The quality of the protein is also important, it should provide a full array of amino-acids, the building blocks of protein. You can achieve this by varying the types of protein you eat.
The body uses fat as the primary energy source for low level to moderate exercise. It is highly important for longer endurance events at lower intensities. As many of us know, fat is easily stored in the body however, it also takes longer to breakdown and digest.
It is important to have a supply of healthy Omega 3 rich fats in your diet. These are found in fish, flaxseed, and walnut oils, are highly beneficial and can aid in joint and tissue recovery after exercise.
To summarise, as an endurance athlete properly proportioning carbohydrates, protein and fat, and getting enough of all of them is one of the most important things you can do. By fuelling your body with nutrient dense food you will allow your body to , allowing it to become it’s very best, providing a strong foundation for your training. The importance of it cannot be overstated, and should never be under-estimated. Eat the best food you can and allow your body to become the best it can be.