Fueling for Endurance Events

Endurance events like marathons, half marathons, triathlons, and adventure races are popular ways people challenge themselves to stay in shape and reach new goals. Training for an endurance event takes time, commitment, and requires proper fuel. 

Without the right fuel you won’t perform your best and you put your body at risk for dehydration and injury. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy when it comes to fueling our workouts. They help to maintain intensity, prevent muscle breakdown, and assist in maintaining hydration. If you are following the popular low-carb diet trend, you may not be getting enough to properly fuel your training and chances are you’ll also perform at subpar levels. Who wants to barely have enough energy to cross the finish line? Not me, that’s for sure! 

Experimenting with fuel sources and timing before your event is essential. And not just the week before, but at least 6 weeks before. Everybody is unique. We all respond to various fuel sources differently which is why we should never introduce new foods or beverages on race day. What foods can be tolerated by one may send another to the nearest restroom.

Pre-Event Fueling Basics:

Foods rich in carbohydrates such as whole grains, oats, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, fresh fruits and vegetables should make up at least fifty percent of your energy needs. Since muscles only store carbohydrates (and not protein) as glycogen, it is important to fuel on quality carbohydrates to ensure adequate glycogen stores for an event.

Food Tips for Pre-Race Nutrition:

  • Eat a high carb dinner and snack to fill your liver with glycogen which will help prevent a drop in blood glucose
  • Focus on eating easy to digest foods
  • Avoid trying any new or unusual foods
  • Limit foods high in fat and keep protein portions small
  • Avoid foods high in fiber (They are harder to digest and may cause GI discomfort during the event.)

Fueling During the Event or Training Workouts Lasting >60 Minutes: 

If less than 1 hour, there is no need to fuel during the activity. If more than 1 hour, then fuel every 20 - 30 minutes. If endurance training is 90 - 150 minutes, aim for 30 - 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. During exercise or an event, the body will respond better with simple carbohydrates, such as those listed below. They are easier to digest. 

Fueling during an event will help:

  • Maintain blood glucose levels
  • Provide fuel to glycogen depleted muscles
  • Spare liver glycogen, allowing liver to maintain glucose output later in exercise
  • Prevent symptoms of glucose deprivation (fatigue, poor coordination, etc.) and prevent drops in serotonin in the brain

Post-Event or Post-Workout Nutrition:

Immediately after an exercise there is a 60 minute window of opportunity that the body has to up-regulate and utilize nutrients to build and repair muscle tissue. For adequate recovery, consume quick digesting carbohydrates and little protein. The more time that elapses after a run without refueling, the more one’s glycogen replenishment and protein repair is compromised. 

Pre-Exercise Fuel Sources (1-2 hours before):

  • Oatmeal or cereal with low fat milk and fresh fruit
  • Bagel with a tsp of almond butter, banana and honey
  • English muffin with peanut butter and jelly
  • Scrambled eggs and toast
  • Turkey sandwich and pretzels
  • Pasta with chicken breast, vegetables and tomato sauce
  • Fruit smoothie and a granola bar
  • Sport bar

Pre-Exercise Fuel Sources (30 minutes before):

  • Piece of fruit
  • Applesauce 
  • Fruit juice
  • Dried fruit
  • Crackers
  • Pretzels

Fuel During Endurance Event or Training >60 minutes:

  • Bananas
  • Sport bar
  • Sports drinks
  • Gu’s, Gels and other quick energy nutrition supplements

Recovery Foods (within 2 hours):

  • Smoothie made with skim milk, blueberries, and protein powder
  • Low fat chocolate milk
  • Low fat greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh fruit, granola, and honey
  • Egg white omelet with toast
  • Turkey sandwich with fresh squeezed juice
  • Chicken or fish with rice and veggies
RxRD Nutrition

Matt provides nutrition education and lifestyle changes to help people become their healthiest self inside and out.

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