Most of us have heard the old adage “food is fuel”. It’s true! The food we eat powers everything we do, even living itself. It takes energy just to keep our body running naturally, and it takes a lot more to swim a two-hour workout in the pool or run a half marathon. The food you eat and when it is consumed plays a huge role in your athletic performance, and it can also affect how you feel after the workout! I’m going to give you a quick breakdown of endurance workout nutrition so your body can sustain itself properly, even during rigorous exercise.
Carbs are important
It’s good to have balance in our diet and eat a variety of foods. We get essential nutrients from a broad range of sources, and there’s no such thing as a “miracle food” (sorry, Dr. Oz!). However, the body’s main source of energy is carbohydrates! And I’m not talking sugary donuts here; your best options are “complex” carbohydrates, like brown rice, oatmeal, whole grain bread, etc… The body and brain prefer to get energy from these sources. With all the low-carb diets out there now, I can’t stress enough how important they are for us! Carbohydrates fuel us throughout the day, so it’s easy to burn through our store quickly during an intense workout, leaving the athlete with little fuel.
Before the workout
Generally, 3-4 hours before a workout is the best time to eat a meal. This should include complex carbs to fuel your workout, like we said earlier. It’s also good to have some protein in there, so your body can replenish later on. However, it’s not necessary to bulk up on too much protein! Your body can’t use more than about 15-20g at a time.
A few pre-workout meal examples:
- Turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread
- Brown rice or quinoa bowl with black beans and veggies
- Oatmeal with nuts/seeds and fruit
If your workout is going to be pretty strenuous, you’ll probably want a lighter snack 1-2 hours before. I know how it is when you’re on the go and feel like you don’t have time to prepare something, but these are quick and easy fuel sources!
Some good pre-workout snack examples:
- Large banana
- Fruit smoothie (fruit/berries, milk, peanut butter, honey, spinach)
- Granola bar
During the Workout
This isn’t necessary for all exercise, but for endurance work, if you’re going for longer than about 90 minutes you will probably need to eat something during your workout. Your glycogen levels will be depleting and if you are going to continue moving, your body needs something to run off of! It’s almost like not stopping for gas when the gas light comes on in your car. Don’t ignore the signals your body gives you! This is when quicker sources of sugar, like sports drinks, are helpful.
Good snacks for during your endurance workout:
- Sports drink
- Granola bar
After the WORKOUT
You should try to eat a snack around 30 minutes after the endurance workout. Shoot for something similar to your pre-workout snack. Again, focus on carbohydrates but with some added protein. 10-20g of protein should be just right, but much more than that and your body won’t be able to process the extra protein.
Post-workout snack examples:
- Yogurt with fruit and granola
- 2 eggs and cooked potato
- Peanut butter sandwich with strawberries and apples
If an intense endurance workout is an everyday thing for you, you’ll need to continue to eat along these same lines throughout the day. Your glycogen stores will need to be replenished again, so make sure you get enough calories and carbohydrates in your post-workout meal too!
Good post-workout meals:
- Sweet potato with chicken spinach salad and rice pilaf
- Baked salmon with brown rice and a green salad
- Turkey wrap on whole wheat tortilla, with veggies
I don’t think we can talk about endurance nutrition without mentioning water! It would do all adults well to drink about eight 8 oz servings of fluids each day, however this is particularly important for endurance athletes and their performance. It may be hard to make this a habit if it’s not already, but it will help you feel more hydrated and energized during your workout!
Try drinking a 8 oz glass of water first thing when you wake up. In addition, it will help to take sips of water every 15-20 minutes during your workout. Doing it this way will also help avoid the “sloshing belly”.
I hope this helps you prepare for your endurance workout so you can perform your best! Food is fuel, and it plays a huge role in how your body reacts during and after your workouts. What are your thoughts on exercise nutrition?