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Nutrition for Endurance Runners

endurance trainingAbout 5 years ago, I ran my first and only half-marathon. It was something that I’d always wanted to do. I developed a nice relationship with running and do it every now and then for exercise and for the opportunity to clear my head! During my training and preparation for my half-marathon, it just so happened that I was also undertaking a sports nutrition unit, as part of my post graduate studies, at Deakin University. As my training went on and my running improved so did my knowledge and understanding of sports nutrition. My love for running and endurance based sports lead me to base my major assignment (literature review) on the effect of carbohydrates on performance for endurance training and competition.

Rest and Recover

An important part of a good endurance-training regime is proactive recovery nutrition. If you don’t consume adequate carbohydrate after your training sessions and as part of your everyday diet, you’re running on empty, or close to it, the next time you train.  To be a successful endurance runner, your body needs sufficient fuel to maintain a high intensity for a long period of time. When you participate in low intensity exercise your body likes to create the majority of its energy from burning fat, but as you start to kick it up a few notches and the intensity becomes higher, the muscles rely more and more on carbohydrate. Your muscles store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen and after a long (90+ minutes), high intensity training session your glycogen stores become depleted.   If you were to train with depleted glycogen stores, you’d feel highly fatigued, exactly like you’re running on empty. That’s because you are.

The goal of recovery nutrition is to give your body enough carbohydrate to re-fill its glycogen stores in preparation for the next training session. If glycogen is not sufficiently replenished in between training sessions or competitions you are likely to experience both fatigue and a decrease in performance.  So what are the recommendations for good recovery nutrition after long distance running? And when I say long distance running, I mean people who train for 90 – 120+ minutes regularly at a moderate to high intensity.

1.  Eat straight after training

Research has found that the period straight after a session of exhaustive exercise is the best time for the body to re-fill it’s glycogen stores. To maximise the rate your body re-synthesises glycogen, aim to eat about 50-75g of carbohydrate within 30-45 minutes after exercise. High glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates are the best choice during this time because they are quickly digested and absorbed, ready to be stored by the muscles.

2.  Keep eating carbohydrates throughout the day

After your initial post-exercise snack, keep including some healthy carbohydrate in the rest of your meals and snacks. Wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables should feature at each of your meal and snack times providing you with plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. Eating carbohydrate at every meal will ensure that glycogen synthesis continues to occur throughout the day, giving your muscles plenty of fuel for the next time you train.

3.  Eat protein with your carbohydrate

Further research into recovery nutrition has shown that eating carbohydrate together with protein can increase the rate at which your body re-fills its glycogen stores which helps maximise these stores for the future and also improve your endurance performance as well. The addition of protein in your recovery nutrition will also aid in muscle repair and reduce the amount of exercise-induced muscle damage.

Ideas for Recovery Snacks

Below is a list of foods containing about 50g of carbohydrate and 10g of protein making them ideal as post-exercise recovery snacks for glycogen replenishment and muscle repair.

  • 500ml low fat chocolate milk
  • 1-2 cups of breakfast cereal with 1/2 cup low fat milk
  • 1 lean meat (ham, chicken etc.), cheese sandwich and a piece of fruit
  • Fruit salad with 200g of yoghurt or custard
  • Baked potato with herbs (chives, garlic, parsley etc.) and cottage cheese
  • 250-350ml liquid meal supplement
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Banana or berry smoothie with skim milk and yoghurt
  • Toast with cheese

Remember, these dietary recommendations are for long (over 90 minutes), intense training sessions for the purpose of being awesome at long distance running or other endurance sport! For just 60 minutes or less gym sessions and for maintaining general health and fitness, the recommendations would be different.

If you’re a long distance runner, cyclist or rower and are experiencing fatigue or a drop in performance, our nutritionists Kate and James can help you design an eating pattern to get you back in the game!

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