Many people only think about performance nutrition in terms of what to eat just before or after a competition. However, the effect of nutrition on your training and performance starts long before. Performance nutrition really begins during training, when you consistently fuel your body with the proper amounts and kinds of calories and nutrients. The nutrition information in this article is meant to provide a solid foundation to help you train for sporting events, military operations, training events, or rucks lasting longer than 60 minutes.
Fundamental tips for success
- The human body performs best on a regular schedule. No matter what your goal, skipping meals is never the answer. Those who skip meals are more likely to have trouble losing weight, have a higher percentage of body fat, and are more likely to reach for energy drinks or supplements to re-energize when their body craves energy from food. For optimal performance, make nutrition a priority no matter how busy you are.
- Fad diets are bad for performance. They’re typically used for a quick fix, such as rapid weight loss. Many omit an entire food group, such as grains or dairy. Unless you have a special medical condition, omitting a food group is more harmful than helpful and could lead to nutrient deficiencies.
- Finally, it’s fine to have a few “go-to” meals, but the more variety in your diet the better. Eat balanced meals. This includes eating grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy every day. The United States Olympic Committee’s Athletes Plate provides a good visual of what a moderately active person’s plate should look like.
Fueling your training
Proper fueling allows you to train hard for multiple days without wearing your body down. Fueling tactics need to be tailored to individual needs, but there are some basic guidelines for the basic nutrients.
Before and during endurance training, carbohydrates are your most important fuel source. They’re in a variety of foods, including grains (such as bread, rice, pasta, and cereal), fruits, starchy vegetables (such as beans, corn, peas, and potatoes), and dairy products (milk, yogurt, etc.).
Include carbs at each meal and, if needed, in additional snacks to meet your training needs. Some easy high-carbohydrate meals include a sandwich, fruit, and yogurt at lunch, and pasta or rice, chicken, side salad, fruit, and milk at dinner.
Carbohydrates are classified as simple (fast) or complex (slow). Simple carbs (fruit, juice, honey) break down quickly and often are best right before or during training. Complex carbohydrates (starches and whole grains) take longer to break down, so incorporate them into your meals. A balance of simple and complex carbohydrates is best to help you stay focused and fueled.
Both protein and fat take longer than carbs to break down, which is why they aren’t considered primary fuel sources for exercise. Protein is important for muscle repair and recovery. The recommended (minimum) daily amount (RDA) of protein is 0.8g/kg body weight, but most endurance athletes need 1.0–1.4 g/kg body weight of protein daily.
Some people eat too much protein and not enough carbs for endurance training. There is no benefit to eating extra protein. After hard workouts, you need a balanced mix of protein and carbs. For most people, 20–25g of protein and 60g of carbohydrate is sufficient.
Fat is an important part of a well-balanced diet, but you don’t need extra fat before, during, or after training or competition. It’s best to consume fats as part of balanced meals. Approximately 20–25% of your daily intake should be from fat.
The finish line
Fueling for endurance events starts by eating a balanced diet, high in variety. Consuming carbs from various sources before training and throughout each day will be keep you energized. Protein after your workouts will help you recover from your workout so you can train again tomorrow.
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Rosenbloom, C. A., & Coleman, E. J. (Eds.). (2012). Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals (5th ed.). Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.