Nutrition For Endurance Sports Nutrition For Athletes

The science of sports nutrition is rapidly evolving. Nearly every day, experts recognize new distinctions between nutritional requirements for different types of exertion. Optimal nutrients and hydration for endurance sports vary in some ways from other forms of sports nutrition. Nutrition for athletes, no matter the sport, usually equates to an adequate balance of lean protein, whole grains, vitamins and minerals, but nutrition for endurance sports requires slow, long- burning fuels and precise food selection during the training process and the off-season.

Hydration for Endurance Sports

Most endurance athletes recognize that dehydration can lead to poor performance and cramping, and that fluid requirements rise during periods of excessive fluid loss under extreme conditions, such as hot weather.

Too much water, on the other hand, can dilute the body’s sodium and electrolyte balance, which can lead to a condition called “dilutional hyponatremia.” This condition can be just as damaging to performance as under-hydrating, and over-hydrating can also cause cramps, bloating and sloshing. Too much water can even lead to water intoxication, which can be deadly.
The key lies in avoiding excess fluids and balancing water intake with salt and electrolyte intake. Most sports nutrition experts recommend water intake amounts between 17 and 25 fluid ounces per hour. This should increase by a few ounces during extreme heat.

Nutrition for Endurance: Calories, Protein and Carb-Loading

Simple sugars in the form of sugary drinks and gels are popular in some endurance sports circles, but it’s a good idea to make sure that these quick burning fuels are diluted so they are absorbed efficiently.

Rather than relying solely on these quick fixes, focus on complex carbohydrates before you exercise. Complex carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen and fat. Using your body’s glycogen and fat stores offers better nutrient delivery to meet your body’s demands and fewer digestive problems than relying only on the calories and sugars eaten during exercise.
Aim for carbohydrates to provide 60 to 70 percent of your total calories. During strenuous exercise of more than two hours, refuel with bananas, raisins, energy bars or gels to prevent an energy crash.

Also, consume plenty of lean protein–about 15 percent of total calories–during training periods and the lead-up to a race. After about two hours of exertion, your body will require protein and amino acids to maintain energy. If you haven’t been consuming adequate protein in your diet, these amino acids may be drawn from your own muscle tissue, which can hamper your performance and lead to diminished muscle growth and repair.

One of the best sources of lean protein nutrition for athletes is soy protein, which is easily digestible, can help maintain alertness, and can regulate the body’s levels of uric acid during intense exercise. Just 3.5 ounce serving of edamame (soybeans) can offer up to 12 grams of protein.

Nutrition and Endurance: Sodium

Many endurance sports enthusiasts try to raise their sodium intake in order to maintain a better balance between water and electrolytes. Most Americans, however, already take in very high levels of sodium, and too much can lead to high blood pressure and other serious health problems, in addition to poor athletic performance.

Before you raise your sodium levels, monitor your current consumption. You may also want to have your blood pressure tested before making any sudden or deliberate changes to your salt intake.

Nutrition and Endurance Tips

As you create your nutrition plan, remember that your own body is unique and may respond to certain nutritional and training regimens in its own way. Don’t stick with plans that don’t work for you, and try to avoid introducing dietary changes or new foods on the day of a race that you haven’t tested during training. Stick with foods your body is used to. Consider speaking with a dietitian or nutritionist specializing in sports nutrition to find a plan that’s right for you.