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A great deal of information and advice is available regarding healthy eating and sport nutrition science, and in this article, Nadia Ruiz, an accomplished marathoner and triathlete, shares her recommendations on fueling for endurance events.
One important question to always ask yourself is: what is your goal? Your goal may be to improve your health, maintain weight, lose weight, build muscle, and/or fuel for a particular sporting event. Each of these goals has its own mechanisms and tips on how to properly fuel. It is important to first identify your goal first and then choose and experiment with what advice works best for you. I am a passionate advocate of healthy eating, so regardless of your goal, I always recommend choosing fueling strategies around healthy choices first.
Below are some tips on how to fuel with healthy choices for your endurance training or races. Experiment with what works for you. What works for one athlete may not necessarily always work another athlete. Your individual needs may also change as you become a more efficient endurance athlete and/or vary your intensity in training and races.
FUELING FOR TRAINING LESS THAN 1 HOUR
Normally, you do not need to emphasize or worry too much about consuming a surplus of calories before or during when training for an event which is less than one hour. Truth is, our bodies have a great fat reserve so regardless of intensity or your personal body composition, you have a storage of calories for your body to use.
After any workout whether it is high intensity or not, you always need to consume something with high quality protein. This can be in food form such as lean chicken, lean grilled fish, salmon, etc., or in the form of a lean protein drink. The type of protein drink or shake you choose will depend upon your goals. If you are looking to simply refuel, a pure protein drink, usually around 200 calories, is a great option. If you are looking to refuel with a meal replacement, then a protein shake with a mixture of carbohydrates is an acceptable option. Keep in mind that these shakes can vary between 400-500 calories. Many protein shakes out there have an excess of carbohydrates so it is unnecessary for less than an hour of training.
FUELING FOR TRAINING LONGER THAN 1 HOUR
You will need to focus on calorie quality and quantity, depending how long you are training or racing. For any long training session and/or endurance event such as a half marathon, marathon, Ironman, try to consume complex healthy (good) carbs mixed with lean protein and/or healthy (good) fats before, during, AND after.
Following are some examples of what I use for my longer training sessions or races of 2 hours or longer. These are really my go to snacks that are healthy, lean, contain quality nutrients, and won’t upset my stomach. Always make sure to try them out in training sessions before using them before a race:
BEFORE: 200-500 Calories ~ 1 – 2 hrs before starting
* greek yogurt with granola or almonds/walnuts
* whole wheat bread toasted with almond butter and sliced banana
* whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, sliced banana, drizzled with honey
* lean chicken breast with pico de gallo (normally this is for my afternoon or evening training sessions)
* whole wheat bread toasted with avocado and tapatio (adds sodium)
* light smoothie with frozen banana, almond milk, flax powder, chia seeds, and any 2-3 fruits I have in my fridge at the time
* one scoop of Top Secret Nutrition Cardio Igniter in my water bottle 15 minutes before
DURING: 100-300 Calories/hour for training/events 3 hours or longer
* gels (not my favorite at all, I usually can only stomach one gel per road marathon)
* nutty bars
* trail mix
* chips (for salt)
* turkey slices
AFTER: 100-300 Calories within 30 minutes of finishing
* lean chicken
* lean fish
* protein drink (with only protein if possible but some carbs are ok)
Please note that consuming lean protein within 30 minutes of finishing your activity is very importatnt because that is when your cells are most active and will absorb protein fastest. Having a packet of pure protein powder handy helps to just get the protein in when you’re done training/racing.
Then within 1 – 2 hours, or whenever you feel hungry, you can have your healthy recovery meal. It is VERY important to reward ourselves with healthy food meal options. Every healthy meal will help cleanse our system and most importantly set it up to be stronger for the next training session. Recovery happens faster depending on the food choices we make.
IN CONCLUSION . . .