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Body and Soul

Body and Soul

Nutritional Strategies for Endurance Training

Lockdown has seen a drastic increase in the number of people out on the streets running, with the couch to 5k app being downloaded 858,000 times, an increase of 92% on the last year. If you are one of those people who has taken to pavement pounding, then we have some nutrition tips to improve performance whether you are starting out with your first 5k or preparing for another marathon.

First, let’s talk the joys carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are essential to the body’s energy production, especially as the duration and intensity of exercise increases. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are short chain molecules which are broken down by the body quickly, these are generally described as sugars which can be used for a quick shot of energy. Due to the slow release of energy complex carbohydrates are a much more important source of food for the endurance athlete. Think rice, corn, potatoes, wheat when looking for complex carbs, although some sports drinks do contain some also.

While there has been an uptake in popularity of the ketogenic diet there is a reliance on carbohydrates for high energy sections of endurance racing negates any perceived benefit to this diet. A higher oxygen consumption is required to transform fat stored energy than carbohydrate stored energy. So please, for the sake of your race times, eat those carbohydrates.

Fuelling for success :

Pre race rituals –

  • Do not eat too close to your run, 2-4 hours should do the trick
  • Amount of food differs depending on time before training
  • 4 hours prior to training = 2g carbohydrates / per of bodyweight
  • 3 hours prior to training = 1.5g carbohydrates / per of bodyweight
  • 2 hours prior to training = 1g carbohydrates / per of bodyweight
  • Look for low fibre complex carbs
  • Drink a half litre of water 1 hour prior to exercise

Runs of 5k- 10k should be covered sufficiently by adequate pre-run nutritional strategies, however you may consider a sports drink to keep you at the top of your game. While intensity of exercise is the determinant of how long the energy stores will last generally 90 to 120 minutes is the magic number, however they can be used up before this so listen to what your body is telling you.

But what about those longer runs of half marathons or the mighty marathon? They both follow similar principles; however, they vary slightly making it important to know your running duration before setting out. It is not only fuel in the form of carbohydrates which must be considered here, but also fluid intake is a massive part of safe and successful endurance training. Bear in mind the amount of sweat that is lost over the duration of several hours of exercise and the fact that sweat is comprised of vital nutrients known as electrolytes which must also be replenished.

Running rituals –

  • Have a drink schedule. 120ml – 240ml of fluids every 15 – 20 minutes, ensure that you stay ahead of dehydration
  • A sports drink will provide a source of carbohydrates, water and electrolytes
  • A separate source of water may be required
  • Carbohydrate sources should be from a sports drink or gel pack, although they can be obtained through solids such as high sugar sweets or fruit these methods are more likely to cause a gastrointestinal troubles
  • For sessions under three hours you should consume 30 – 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour
  • For sessions over three hours you should consume 60 – 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour
  • This likely more than you would wish to carry on a run so be prepared to go into a shop part way through your run.
  • A backpack which has water storage is recommended as this will allow you to comfortably carry more fluids with you.

While it is possible to train without taking all of these steps hopefully this will give insight into what the scientific consensus is for nutritional strategies around endurance training. It may be a big leap to take on board all of these at once, but if you look at your current training practices it can be useful to pick just one and focus on this for a couple of weeks. These small changes can lead to big gains overtime and your body will thank you for it.

Speaking of the body thanking you, there is also some recovery strategies. This is simply a post exercise meal or snack that contains a moderate amount of carbohydrates, around 0.5g – 0.7g per pound of bodyweight which should be consumed within 30 minutes of exercise. The need to do this in a 30-minute window is important as the glycogen uptake is slowed by up to 45% if done within two hours making recovery a much longer process. Protein is also necessary, while it is still best practice to consume right away it is not as vital and can be held off for up to two hours. A serving of 15g - 25g of protein is recommended.

There it is. A full day’s eating based around your ability to perform at a high level in endurance training. Now we are allowed to dream of a future of fitter faster people taking part in races together, until then get out there, hit those pavements and we’ll see you out there hitting an all new personal best.