Optimal Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes

Diagram showing the food chart
January 18, 2017

Mike Ricci


tagged in:

Are you looking for that "something" to help take your health and athletic performance to the next level? Below, I provide you with the latest in nutrition & exercise science to help optimize health and achieve peak run performance.

**#10: Implement Carbo-Loading Protocols Before Long Races**

Carbo-loading protocols are appropriate when gearing up for races lasting 2+ hours. These entail coordinating a high carbohydrate training diet (55-60% of daily intake) with a taper in training volume about 2-3 weeks out from race day. Increase carbohydrate concentration by 25% while maintaining calorie balance in the final three days leading up to race day. Popular carbo-loading menu items include pasta, potato, bagels, cereal, energy bars, fruit juice, bananas, rice, pretzels, and low-fat yogurt. By following carbo-loading protocols, muscle glycogen stores will increase 30-40%, lowering the likelihood of hitting the wall mid-race.

**#9: Practice Fueling Before Racing**

Regardless of race distance or carbo-loading protocols, a pre-race meal is essential to protect against low blood sugars and mental drain known as "bonking". Stick to lower-fiber, "gut-friendly" pre-race options such as plain toast, bananas, rice or corn-based cereal, pasta, and potato. Including up to 25 grams of protein and up to 20 grams of fat is encouraged to mute hunger and stabilize blood sugars. Aim to consume 400-600 carbohydrate-focused calories in the two hours leading up to race start to optimize blood sugars and protect against early onset of muscle fatigue.

**#8: Include Salt on Race Mornings**

Salt loading before a race can help increase blood volume, allowing athletes to maintain a lower core body temperature and a lower level of perceived effort. Athletes naturally exposed to sodium-rich foods may not need to add extra salt to their normal pre-race routine. Runners with pre-existing elevated blood pressure should check with their physician before practicing salt loading.

**#7: Learn Your Sweat Rate**

Understanding sweat rate is crucial for developing a race day nutrition plan. To determine hourly fluid needs, subtract post-workout weight from pre-workout weight and multiply by 15.2 ounces. Add this number to volume of fluid ingested during the workout to determine total fluid needs. Divide total fluid needs by total duration of workout to determine hourly fluid replacement needs. As the heat index rises and/or workout intensity increases, sweat rate also increases.

**#6: Be Aware of Your Body's Ability to Absorb Fluids**

Determining actual uptake rate (how much fluid you can absorb) is essential. Monitoring urine color and frequency can help assess fluid absorption efficiency. Overdrinking can lead to hyponatremia (low blood sodium), characterized by symptoms like a sloshy gut, bloating, headaches, clear urine, weight gain, and vomiting.

**#5: Use Multiple Carbohydrate Sources During Training and Racing**

A combination or blend of two or more types of simple sugars and a complex carbohydrate can increase carbohydrate uptake rate, positively impacting endurance performance. Athletes engaging in back-to-back long run efforts or workouts twice a day can benefit from this approach.

**#4: Add Protein for the Long Haul**

Including up to 6 grams of protein during training or racing lasting greater than three hours may help enhance endurance performance by sparing muscle glycogen and increasing fluid uptake. Be cautious about overdoing protein to avoid stomach distress and muscle fatigue/cramping.

**#3: Go Longer with Less Effort with Caffeine**

Caffeine intake during prolonged exercise helps maintain blood glucose concentration and reduce strength loss. Experiment with personal tolerance to caffeine and choose caffeinated energy gels based on individual response.

**#2: Focus on Low Glycemic Carbohydrates Between Workouts**

Consuming low glycemic carbohydrates between workouts may optimize performance when back-to-back workouts are planned. Low glycemic foods have been shown to result in more efficient fatty acid oxidation and longer endurance.

**#1: Fill Your Meal Plate with Foods that Reduce Inflammation**

Consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially those with deep color hues, provides anti-inflammatory benefits. Incorporate these foods into 50% of each meal plate to combat inflammation and enhance recovery.

These strategies can help optimize your nutrition and exercise routine to achieve peak run performance and overall health.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

schedule a call