Simple Nutritional Strategies for Endurance Athletes
What to eat?
So you’ve signed up for a half marathon and have all of your training runs planned up until the big day. You feel confident, but realize there is one area you’re not quite sure about. What am I supposed to eat?
Athletes striving to conquer their first half marathon often ask that question. I wish there were one simple answer, but the fact is, every individual has different dietary needs that facilitate optimal performance. I am going to arm you with some information to help you demolish your half marathon on race day!
Timing of pre- workout nutrition
Pre workout nutrition is a common topic amongst runners, yet few people actually know how to fuel their bodies before a workout. Eating a snack before a training run can provide a helpful boost of energy and stave off that feeling of hunger, allowing you to keep your intensity level consistent. The two questions I frequently run into are, “What snack should I eat and when should I eat it?”
The snack should not be large, but substantial enough to provide a boost of energy without negatively impacting performance. When you first start experimenting with pre-workout snacks, give yourself between 60-90 minutes before you exercise. With each successful workout, you can decrease the amount of time between snacking and training.
Eventually, you should hit a point where the snack causes discomfort and hinders performance. At this point, you will have a good idea of how much time you need after snacking before you can begin your training session.
Not all snacks are created equal. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source and should be the focus of your immediate pre- and -post workout nutrition.
Carbs come in simple and complex form, which determines how fast the body can break them down into sugar and use them for energy. You should focus on simple carbs such as fruits when you need an energy boost quickly, and eat complex carbs such as whole grains when you have more time to digest your food.
During regular meals that aren’t immediately pre- or- post workout, your plate should consist of wholesome complex carbs. If you are not familiar with what types of carbs break down the fastest into sugar, you can check their glycemic index (GI).
The GI scores food on a scale of 1-100 based on how much they spike your blood sugar.
The higher the score, the higher your glucose levels are affected. Foods with a lower score will still supply the body with energy, but they take longer to break down and do not cause as much of a spike in blood sugar. This is the reason why they are recommended for the majority of your carb intake (outside of immediate pre-and-post workout).
half marathon nutrition
Remember, simple processed carbs are typically avoided since they do not have substantial nutritional value and can disrupt insulin sensitivity. That is why I recommend using them immediately after a workout. Your snack choice should be based on how long ago your last meal was, how long until your training session, and the duration/intensity of your workout.
Post- workout fuel
Post -workout nutrition is equally as important, if not more so,than pre- workout nutrition. After a challenging run, your body is looking to replenish the carbs you burned off during exercise. It’s vital to replace these carbs, since they are necessary in aiding the body during the recovery process.
It is okay to ingest some form of simple carbohydrate immediately post workout since your body will use them up faster than if you were eating them during an “anytime meal.” However, it is vital you eat a post workout meal consisting of a healthy balance of lean protein, green leafy vegetables, and complex carbs.
The amount of simple carbs you eat immediately post workout should be limited as the majority of your nutrition will come from your actual meals consisting of the aforementioned macronutrients. Just because you are running 20-30 miles a week does not mean it is acceptable to eat a mountain of processed foods.
Eat smart, fuel your body well, and the results will manifest.
Do what works best for YOU
You can now make informed decisions about your nutrition choices and improve the quality of your workouts. There is no magic pill or plan for any single individual, but rather a constant personalization of your own plan using the knowledge you possess of your body.
Everything you put in your body either helps you or hurts you, so arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible and put yourself in a position to be the best version of you! If it is your plan to embark on a journey to complete a 5K, half marathon, marathon, etc., I would love to answer any questions you have. Shoot me an email at Will@WilmingtonPerformanceLab.com and I will assist you in any way I can.