Getting the right nutrition for your fitness regime is crucial to the success of your training program – if you don’t eat properly, you are denying your body the nutrients it needs. Your training program can also be held back by the wrong fitness nutrition. Eating the right food, on the other hand, can improve your performance. “Eat yourself fit” is not just an empty phrase; quite the opposite! Sport and nutrition are inextricably linked. This article looks at what, when and how much you should eat if you are an endurance athlete. Your goals, and the kinds of exercise you do, are also crucial here.
Eat yourself fit for your endurance training
Endurance training involves exercising for a certain period of time. Depending on the objective of the exercise, this could be anywhere from an hour to several hours. Whether you are running, cycling or swimming – subjecting the body to several hours of exercise requires a certain amount of preparation in terms of nutrition. In order to cover long distances in endurance training, the body needs energy. With the right fitness nutrition, endurance athletes can even see improved performance.
Fitness nutrition – Before your workout
Carbohydrates are essential for the body to get the energy it needs. You should eat sufficient quantities of pasta, rice, potatoes, and vegetables around four to five hours before a training session. The carbohydrates should also be accompanied by a portion of meat or fish, to provide protein for the body, too. Since a meal like this can sit heavily on the stomach, it is important to leave enough time between eating and exercising. As well as making sure you get enough carbohydrates, protein is generally important, too. Other sources of protein besides meat and fish include nuts, soy products, and dairy.
Any endurance athletes who have ever exercised without eating enough will know what it feels like to find your body doesn’t have the energy it needs. It can therefore be worth having another light snack around half an hour before exercising. The food you choose for this is particularly important. It must not be anything difficult to digest and so should be low in protein and fat. Fruit is actually best in this case. Bananas are the most popular among endurance athletes, since they contain both short- and long-chain carbohydrates, delivering a quick boost of energy that lasts throughout the training session. Other fruits with a high water-content – such as pears, nectarines or peaches – are also an option if you want to give your body the energy it needs just before starting endurance training.
Every athlete is different, however, and different foods work well for different athletes. All that matters is that it gives you the energy you need quickly, without any discomfort in your stomach.
Fitness nutrition – After your workout
Endurance training leaves your energy stores empty. That is why it is important to replenish them again after exercising. You should always eat a proper meal within 30 to 45 minutes of exercising. Ideally, this should include protein, complex, “good” carbohydrates, and healthy fats. The right fitness nutrition is also essential for regeneration because, if the body does not get the carbohydrates it needs to fill up its energy stores, it turns instead to the body’s own muscle – which really isn’t in an endurance athlete’s interests.
So don’t forget to eat after endurance training!
Endurance athletes should eat foods in the following ratios:
- Carbohydrates: 60%
- Protein: 12-16%
- Fats: 24-26%
The ideal fitness diet can vary once again depending on the kind of sport. We have therefore put together the below table to outline which foods are recommended for four different endurance sports:
|Type of endurance sport||“Eat yourself fit” tip|
|Running||If you go out running several times a week, eating sufficient carbohydrates is vital. If your carbohydrate stores are not full during a run, the body has to burn its own amino acids, which can reduce the success of the training session.|
|Cycling||Cycling is another high-intensity endurance sport. Since the routes travelled are usually covered over several hours, it is important to keep energy stores topped up during the ride. This works best if you dissolve carbohydrate powder in a little water and carry it with you as a drink.|
|Swimming||It is important to drink while you are swimming, too. Contrary to popular belief, we do sweat even in water. It is therefore vital to keep yourself hydrated when swimming.|
|Hiking||When going for a day’s hiking, it is important to prepare by eating the right food. Ideally, you should start the day with a bowl of muesli before your hike. This should contain oats, nuts, and berries, preferably mixed with yoghurt. You should take wholewheat bread and fruit with you as provisions.|
Carbohydrates for endurance athletes
Not only is it important that endurance athletes stock up on carbohydrates, but also that they choose the right ones. Recommended good carbohydrates are cereal products such as pasta, rice, bread, and muesli. Potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and pulses are also recommended. If you’re looking for a snack that provides the right kind of carbohydrates, then reach for (dried) fruit, cereal bars and fruit bars or (whole meal) cookies. As far as drinks are concerned, fruit juice diluted with water can help to replenish carbohydrate stores.
The right proteins and fats for your fitness nutrition
As outlined above, 12-16% of an endurance athlete’s fitness nutrition should be made up of protein. As a general rule, we get enough protein over the course of a day anyway as part of a fitness diet. Many people already get the protein they need in the form of meat, fish, and dairy products. It won’t do endurance athletes any harm to pay a little extra attention to their protein intake, though.
Besides carbohydrates and protein, balanced fitness nutrition also includes fats. An endurance athlete’s fitness diet should be 24-26% fats. Ideally, you should only eat good fats, which can be found in fish, olive oil, avocados, and nuts. Margarine, sausages, and high-fat dairy products, on the other hand, contain unhealthy fats that should be avoided.
And, of course, don’t forget to drink
Sufficient fluids: As well as fitness nutrition, it is also important to drink enough. In order to avoid having to drink during your workout, you should drink plenty of fluids prior to exercising. When we do physical activity, our body tries to regulate its temperature by sweating. Athletes must replenish the fluids lost by drinking. You should drink plenty throughout the day, not just when you feel thirsty. If you exercise two or three times a week, you should make sure you drink at least the following amount of fluid:
- Women: 25 to 30 ml per kg of body weight
- Men: 30 to 35 ml per kg of body weight
Sporting goals can only be achieved with the right fitness nutrition. So “eat yourself fit”!