In this article, we'll show you the best ways to use carbohydrate, fat and protein in your diet, to help fuel your training and recovery.
Carbohydrates are the most important fuel for endurance athletes. They are the primary source of energy during the first 20 minutes of exercise and higher intensity exercise. Your body can store enough carbohydrate to fuel 90–120 minutes. After this, you will need to supplement your carbohydrate stores. Each gram of carbohydrate provides four calories of energy.
Protein is required for recovery from high-intensity and endurance workouts. It repairs muscle tissue and maintains a healthy immune system. Each gram of protein provides four calories of energy.
Fats are stored in your body and are a valuable source of energy for endurance athletes. They are not as efficient as carbohydrates in releasing energy and can only be converted to energy during lower intensity exercise. Each gram of fat provides nine calories—over twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates and protein.
Workouts from 15 to 60 minutes - If you are adequately fuelled before your workout then hydrating with water and/or sports drinks should be enough for these shorter workouts. If you have multiple training sessions in a single day, then sport drinks (that provide 6% to 8% carbohydrate) will help maintain blood glucose levels and improve performance (blood glucose supplies the brain with fuel which will help you maintain focus).
Workouts from 1-3 hours - Consume up to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. You can use sports nutrition products such as gels, chews and energy bars. If you prefer you can choose 'real foods' which are low in fat, protein and fiber. Refuel regularly about every 20 minutes. Training is an ideal time for you to experiment and practice with foods and nutrition. Get used to the products as well as how you carry and consume the fuel.
Workouts longer than 3 hours - Consume approximately 60-70 grams per hour of carbohydrate. Research shows that athletes who have not practised fuelling during training are twice as likely to develop GI distress on race day.
After Exercise - Post-exercise nutrition helps to replenish your body, restore muscle and replace fluids/sodium lost to sweat and respiration.
Fuel Specifically - Early in your training take time to find out which on-course nutrition products will on offer at your race. Aim to use these products during all training sessions in preparation to reduce the risk of GI discomfort during your event.
Morning Training - Aim to eat breakfast 1-3 hours before your workout. If you train too early to achieve this, then eat a small snack or sports nutrition product (containing approximately 30 grams of carbohydrate) immediately before exercising.
Afternoon Training - Eat a carbohydrate-based meal (400–500 calories) approximately two to three hours before exercise. This will allow the body enough time for digestion and absorption. If your meal is high in fat, protein or fiber, you will need five to six hours to digest.
Evening Training - If training in the evening, aim to consume a high-carbohydrate breakfast and lunch. Also, eat a light meal or snack one to four hours before exercising.
Nutrition in Training
The table below shows daily intakes that take into consideration your training load. These values are for consumption before, during and after training. You will see that you need to adjust your nutrition as your training volumes change throughout the training plan.
|Easy Training||3-5 g/kg||1 - 1.2 g/kg||
Make good quality fat choices (avoiding trans fats and eat more plant-based fats).
From various sources throughout the day, urine should be pale.
|Moderate Training (1hr)||5-7 g/kg||1.2 - 1.4 g/kg|
Endurance Training (1-3hrs)
|6-10 g/kg||1.4 - 1.7 g/kg|
|Ultra-Endurance (4-5hrs)||8-12 g/kg||1.7 - 2 g/kg|
Most gels contain 22 grams of carbohydrate. There is a massive selection of sports drinks available for you to use standalone or in combination with gels and/or real foods. Research according to your requirements and preferences. Then practice, (a lot), during training so that you have this element of your race in the bag!
Nutrition in Through the Phases
- Consume 6-8 servings of fruit and vegetables per day to ensure you get a sufficient and varied supply vitamins and minerals.
- Pay attention to what and when you eat, learn about yourself and understand what works best for you to support your training.
- Experiment with your sports nutrition choices. Try different energy bars, gels and sports drinks to choose the products that work well for your body later in training and racing.
- Find out which on-course nutrition products will be offered at your race. Use these products during training sessions to reduce the risk of GI discomfort during your event.
Build Phase Focus
- Stick with the energy bars, gels and sports drinks that worked well for you in your Prep/Base cycle.
- Eat often, snacking is beneficial in this phase which has the highest training loads.
- Consider salt tablets. Depending on the race environmental conditions and the distance, these could be of benefit. Try them during your long workouts to see how your body handles them.
- Ensure you have the right balance of calories to support your training and enable you to nail every session.
- Focus on your recovery and make the most of your training by fuelling for maximum benefit.
Peak/Taper Phase Focus
- Choose a lower fiber diet if you race longer distances to avoid GI distress
- Keep a check on your hydration
- About two weeks out from your race, consider adding extra salt to your diet. This is particularly key for events of 4 hrs+ and/or in hot and humid climates. (This assumes you do not have a pre-existing health condition that could be affected by an increased sodium intake).
- You should know what your race-day nutrition plan is now, don't try anything new.
Check out Phil's Blog for more on Nutrition.
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