How Nutrition Can Improve Endurance

endurance performance
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Do you find yourself struggling to find energy to complete longer hikes, bikes or climbs? We do too! We’ve compiled some general guidelines for optimizing nutrition for endurance.

Eating a balanced diet that meets your needs can give you a leg up. Think of your nutrition as another part of training. Learning what works for you and what foods to eat and when to make you feel your best, takes planning and practice. And like training, getting your nutrition dialed will help you crush it. 

Keep in mind that there are many things that make you unique: your goals, level of fitness, body size and composition, and diet. We recommend speaking with a licensed professional for the nuance you need to set yourself up for success.

Before Your Activity

Make sure you have the energy you need to get you through the physical and mental work of a challenging day. Whether you’re hiking to an alpine lake or setting out on a long distance ride  – you’re burning extra calories.
 
Having energy available when you’re exercising will improve your coordination, endurance, concentration, and your recovery afterwards. It also prevents irritability and helps you make good decisions when in the outdoors.
 
If you’re not sure how many calories you are eating, try tracking the foods you eat for a few days. You’ll also need to track your activity to know how much energy you need for the activity. To optimize your nutrition for endurance, log your food and exercise with Cronometer. It can sync with Strava too!
 
Pre-exercise foods should be high in carbs, moderate to low in protein, and low in fat and fibre.
 
If you’re going out for a longer run, hike or bike (1+ hours), have a larger snack or a meal no later than 2 hours before your workout, with a small snack (like a gel) 30 minutes before you begin.
 
"Foods with nitric oxide precursor compounds may improve athletic performance if consumed prior to exercise. Caffeine can also improve muscle strength short-term and improve mental focus, which can optimize athletic performance."
DJ Mazzoni
Registered Dieitian and Medical Reviewer at Illuminate Labs
Good food choices:
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Gels/chews
  • Granola bars
  • Bagels – we really love bagels at Cronometer!
  • Rice
  • Foods rich in nitrates such as beets, beet powder, spinach & kale.
  • Foods rich in l-citrulline such as watermelon
  • Dark chocolate or coffee

During Your Activity

Optimize your nutrition for endurance when climbing
Having carbs in your system will help prevent fatigue and improve concentration.
 
For light to moderate exercise (up to an hour per day): aim for 3-7 g of carbs per kilogram of body weight every day, to make sure you have enough energy for your activity and recovery.
 
For harder, longer exercise over an hour: your carbohydrate needs will be more in the range of 6-10 g/kg body weight/day for a typical day.
 
Longer exertion and higher intensities are where you can benefit from eating more carbs. Even putting carbs in your mouth during exercise sends a signal to your brain that keeps you feeling good and helps sustain your level of effort.
 
So, if you find yourself getting tired or feeling fuzzy during your exercise, try eating or drinking something with carbs in it. Start with around 30 g of carbs and go up from there if you need it.
 
Foods to eat during activity:
  • Rice cakes (we love the ones in the Feed Zone Portables cookbook by Skratch Labs)
  • Potatoes (pre-boil and bring on your ride)
  • Gels/chews
  • Low-sugar cereal like Shreddies (you’ll get the iron from fortified cereals, important for endurance athletes!)
 
Whatever you bring, make sure you go for low acidity carbs so there’s less of a chance of heartburn or an upset stomach. It might take a bit of trial and error to find the right carbs for you!

After Your Activity

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Nutrition for endurance is crucial for long days on the bike
Protein in your diet promotes muscle building after your activities – meaning you’ll be stronger on the next!
 
To support your body, aim for 1.2-1.4 g of protein per kg of body weight each day.
 
Spread your protein intake between your meals and snacks throughout the day. This has better effects than having a lot of protein at once. 
 
Refuel with a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein.
 
For example, if you’re making a smoothie, you would want it to have 30 grams of carbs for every 10 grams of protein. This ratio becomes more important to consider the longer or harder your activity. You may not need to refuel as methodically after a shorter stint. But if you’ve been out there for a while or working hard, this will help refill your carb stores, build strength, and repair muscle damage.

Drink Water

Proper hydration is fundamental to athletic performance
For peak performance, hydrate before, during and after exercise. A few hours before you head out, drink 5-10 ml/per kg of body weight.
 
You’ll start off well hydrated with enough time to get rid of excess beforehand, saving you time looking for a rest stop on the trail.
 
During and after activity, drink enough water to replace what you lost, without overdoing it. To estimate what you need, weigh yourself before and after a ride. Then, aim to drink fluid to replace what you lost.
 
For example, if you weighed 1 kg less when you wrap up for the day, aim to drink 1 L of fluid during your workouts. Drink more afterwards, too – roughly 0.25-0.5 litres for each kg of weight lost.
 
Up your fluid intake when you up the intensity or duration of your exercise and when it’s hotter, more humid or higher altitude than usual.
 
If it’s a hot day, or if you would consider yourself a sweaty person, add electrolytes to your water before and during your workout. If you can tolerate it, Gatorade can be useful as both a carb and a source of electrolytes.
 
A word of caution though as some find that consuming that much sugar in liquid form upsets their stomach. If that’s the case, look for a product like Nuun or Hammer Endurance Endurolytes.
 
When it comes to electrolytes, you want something low/no sugar, but also without artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols, which may also cause stomach upset.

Essential Micronutrients

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Vitamin SHRED.

Eat a diet that gives you all the essential vitamins and minerals you need:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Protein: legumes, eggs, tofu, fish and chicken.

     

Micronutrients

While tracking all the micronutrients is what sets Cronometer apart, there are a few highlighted here for athletes: iron, calcium and vitamin D.

Iron

Helps supply your muscles with the oxygen they need to make energy. Regularly getting a lot of exercise can increase your need for iron, so consider boosting your daily intake above the recommended dietary allowance; 18 mg/day for most adult women and 8 mg/day for adult men and post-menopausal women. This is more important if you are doing long endurance activities, vegetarian or, a woman who menstruates. 

Calcium & Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are also important nutrients for endurance athletes. They help with muscle function as well as reducing the risk of injury.
 

Good sources of calcium include:

  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
 
Few foods contain vitamin D; sources include eggs and oily fish like salmon and sardines and milk often has vitamin D added.
 
We can make vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sun. Working out indoors, in the early morning or evening, wearing clothing or applying sunblock that covers your skin all limit your ability to make vitamin D this way. That might mean more reliance on dietary sources and supplements to meet your needs.

Drink (Less) Beer

Cronometer staff mountain biking in Revelstoke, BC
Hydration, as we mentioned, is crucial!
A celebratory brew after a long day, that fits within your energy needs, is part of a healthy diet. Drinking too much alcohol can impair your recovery, as well as your performance even after your hangover wears off.
 
If you feel like you’re not performing at your best, save the suds for the shower and curb your alcohol intake in the day or two before you plan to exercise.

Eat smarter. Live better.

Track your food, exercise and metrics with Cronometer.

For more of the details behind these recommendations and more information for competitive athletes check out the source:

Nutrition and Athletic Performance, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2016 – Volume 48 – Issue 3 – p 543-568. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852

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