In sports, food is both life and fuel. You can train well and succeed as an athlete if you deprive yourself of nutrition. In fact, contrary to what most people think, professional sports players actually need to eat more to sustain themselves through the different gruelling physical activities. However, eating more doesn't mean consuming everything that's on the table. It's actually more about eating smart.
As an endurance powerhouse, what you put into your body can spell the huge difference between getting rusty and performing at your best. Here's what the nutrition experts say about what you should eat on a daily basis.
1. Eat enough and take breakfast seriously
Contrary to popular belief, performance starts not with training, but with fuel. By estimating your daily energy requirements, you can create a meal plan that fits your athletic needs. This program always begins with a quality breakfast. Many endurance athletes, like cyclists, swimmers, and runners, still see a caloric deficit at the end of the day despite eating properly. Sometimes, they skip breakfast thinking they need to work out first, and for fear of gaining weight.
Nutritionists say that breakfast should make up one-third to 50 percent of your daily caloric needs to avoid feeling tired by night and eating poorly for the rest of the day. If you're always on the clock, you can help boost your mornings with EAS protein bars and other protein- and carbohydrates-rich quick snacks, which you can definitely enjoy on the road.
2. Eat quality food
You may be having gels and bars while training, but what are you eating when you're not? A high-quality diet can help athletes get leaner despite having an appetite that's magnified by training heavily. Pay attention to what you eat. Your plate should be full of lean protein, complex carbs, vegetables, and fruits. Don't worry about an overflowing plate; that's fine. You should also be staying away from alcohol and keeping your caffeine intake to a minimum to zero. Needless to say, junk and fatty foods should be out.
3. Timing matters
Athletes should eat 1 to 3 hours before a training session. For high-intensity workouts, meals should be taken in under two hours prior. This teaches the body to rely on the body's fat stores to obtain energy. For these workouts, nutritionists recommend less carbohydrates and more liquid-based nutrition, like the one from sports drinks. If your training session is expected to last over 3 hours, you must consume up to 300 grams of carbs 1 to 4 hours prior.
What you eat post-workout also matters, particularly during the 30 to 60 minutes right after long and high-intensity exercises. Around 10 to 25 grams of protein for runners and other endurance athletes is necessary after training. Add to that some 1 to 1.2 grams of carbs for every kilogram of body weight. Fat should only be consumed after a few hours because it will inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates.
4. Monitor your macros
Macronutrients consist of proteins, fats, and carbs. No matter what people tell you about carbs being the enemy of a lean diet, it is absolutely essential to the performance of an endurance athlete. As a rule, you should allocate 15 to 20 percent of your daily caloric intake to protein, 45 to 65 percent to carbohydrates, and 20 to 35 percent to fats.
5. Hydrate the right way
Hydrating does not mean just drinking at least eight glasses of water a day. Nutritionists say that one's fluid needs really depends on the person's activity levels, size, sweat rate, altitude, and weather. More importantly, it's about finding the right balance of electrolytes and fluids. Thus, don't just quench your thirst with water. Instead, alternate between that and low-sugar electrolyte beverages to boost your minerals and salts.
Eating and drinking healthily is crucial to the consistent performance of endurance athletes. You don't have to deprive yourself just to hit your training goals. By maintaining a healthy relationship with food, you make playing sports a more enjoyable activity. Endurance athletes can get pretty obsessive with their diets, but they really don't have to be.