This week, our special guest bloggers, Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC, authors of 100 Questions and Answers about Sports Nutrition & Exercise, offer expert tips on endurance events.
Endurance events, such as marathons, ultra marathons, adventure races, and Ironmans, pose nutritional challenges for athletes. The mode of exercise, hours of competition, weather conditions, and racecourse all factor into creating a nutrition plan that maximizes energy consumption and hydration status.
During an endurance event, it is impossible to consume enough fuel or fluids to match what is being expended. Competitors must create an individual nutrition and hydration plan to ensure the body is receiving the maximal amount of fuel and fluids. The next four steps will help you formulate the proper plan for your event.
Step One: Know the Race Details
- Mode of Exercise: it is always possible to carry foods and fluids during exercise, but it is not always easy to consume the foods and fluids. For example, it is often easier for cyclist to eat and drink during exercise than a runner.
- Hours of Competition: longer events require higher carbohydrate and fluid needs. Endurance athletes are more susceptible to running out of fuel (“bonking”), dehydration or hyponatremia.
- Weather Conditions: sweat rates are influenced by cold, mild and hot weather.
- Racecourse: the variability of the racecourse may influence consumption. For example, it may be harder to eat/drink during more challenging areas of the course such as hills.
Step Two: Understand Basics Sports Nutrition Strategies
- Eat a balanced and easily digestible meal 1-4 hours prior to exercise.
- Consume a high carbohydrate snack and 8-16 ounces of fluid 30-60 minutes prior to exercise and/or competition.
- Eat and drink from the start of the event. Athletes that consume foods and fluids in the early minutes of the race perform stronger.
- Carbohydrate consumption: 30-60 grams per hour for 1 to 2.5 hours of activity and 80-90 grams per hour for 2.5 to 3 hrs and more of activity. Use carbohydrate sources that have multiple transportable carbohydrates (glucose and fructose) to increase absorption and reduce gastrointestinal distress. Consuming fructose only could cause symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea.
- Hydration: consume 5-12 ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes during exercise. Amount varies due to sweat rate differences and individual gut tolerance. Sweat rate is influenced by weather, athlete’s size, conditioning, acclimatization, gender and age.
- Sweat losses during exercise should not exceed 2% of body weight. Greater than 2% loss can significantly decrease performance and increases the risk of medical complications such as heat stress and heat stroke.
- Sodium intake is essential to prevent hyponatremia, which is a dangerous condition that occurs when blood sodium levels are too low. Sodium can be consumed via sports drinks and foods.
- Flavor fatigue and taste changes are common during longer events. Notice changes in palatability during training in order to minimize fueling disruptions during competition.
- Consume foods that contain fat and protein (in addition to carbohydrates) during the event as they increase satiety and variety.
- Test foods and fluids throughout training to ensure gut tolerance during competition. Train your stomach like you train your muscles, start slowly and build up. For example, marathon training does not begin with a 26-mile run nor can your gut tolerate consuming 24 ounces of fluid during an hour of exercise if you are not used to consuming fluids. Progressively add fluids – 8 ounces then 16 then 24, etc. You must let your gut gradually accept the change.
- Set a watch/timer as a reminder to eat and drink at regular intervals.
- Use hydration and fueling devices, such as camelbacks and fuel belts.
- Carbohydrate loading prior to competition is beneficial.
- Know what foods and fluids will be offered during the competition. If these are not items you trained with, then you should not try them on race day.
- Examples of foods/fluids include: bananas, PB & J sandwich, peanut butter crackers, cheese sandwich, turkey and cheese sandwich, mini bagels, jerky, potato chips, crackers, fig newtons, soup/broth, cookies, candy, pretzels, sports drinks, liquid meals/shakes.
Step Three: Outline Your Nutrition and Hydration Plan
Hour 1: fig newtons+ 24 ounces of sports drink
Hour 2: banana + 24 ounces of sports drink
Hour 3: PB & J sandwich + 24 ounces of sports drink
Hour 4: pretzels + 24 ounces of sports drink
Hour 5: jerky + 24 ounces of sports drink
Hour 6: cookies + 24 ounces of sports drink
Step Four: Log and Revise
Log the successes and failures of your plan during training in order to revise it as needed before competition. Keep track of tolerated foods and fluids, ability to consume and ease of consumption of the foods and fluids, sweat losses (weight changes), gastrointestinal disturbances, performance, and recovery.
A “one-size fits all” plan does not exist thus devising a sports nutrition fueling and hydration plan will often include much trial and error. Sports Dietitians (credentials: RD, CSSD) are able to provide athletes with valuable guidance during this process. If you take the time to develop the right plan, you will be one step ahead of your competitors.
Thank you to our readers for submitting this question. We have had many wonderful questions/comments, which have resulted in several of the articles written thus far and questions that have been submitted in the last few months will be answered in the upcoming months.
More information can be found in 100 Questions and Answers About Sports Nutrition and Exercise by Lilah Al-Masri, MS, RD, CSSD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC.
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