Endurance athletes rely on proper nutrition to achieve optimal performance and recovery. Suboptimal nutrition can put athletes at risk for serious health outcomes that affect hormones, bone mass, strength, energy and injury risk. Consequently, it is very important that endurance athletes consume adequate calories in the right proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to support their daily activities.
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Endurance athletes rely on carbohydrates as their main fuel during exercise, requiring adequate stores and an external supply. Athletes exercising one to five hours per day require daily intakes of 6 to 12 grams per kilogram body weight, increasing with exercise duration. According to Clinical Sports Nutrition, before activity, endurance athletes should consume 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrates to replenish their stores and prevent hunger. During exercise, athletes should consume 30 to 90 grams of carbohydrates per hour. The American Dietetic Association suggests energy drinks, gels or bananas as good sources of carbohydrates. Post-exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed immediately to encourage recovery. Examples of carbohydrate-rich foods are bread, oatmeal, chocolate milk and fruit.
Protein only provides a tiny fraction of the energy needed for lengthy exercise, but it is critical in supporting muscle development and recovery. You need protein to maintain a balance between muscle breakdown and synthesis, to prevent injury and to encourage muscle repair. Endurance athletes should consume 1.2 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight daily, with an emphasis on consuming protein within an hour of exercise. Consuming protein-rich foods immediately before and during exercise may contribute to gastrointestinal upset. Athletes should consume high quality proteins such as meat, milk and soy products.
The American Dietetic Association states that, in general, athletes require dietary fat intakes that make up 20 to 35 percent of their daily calories. Both athletes and non-athletes should emphasize sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils, fatty fish and avocados, minimize intake of saturated fat sources such as butter and bacon and avoid trans fats, found in commercial baked goods and margarine, altogether. Before an athletic event, prevent gastrointestinal upset by avoiding high fat foods.
Recommendations will differ depending on an athlete's sex, weight and activity, but for a highly active endurance athlete, a sample meal plan might resemble the following: Begin with breakfast, including a fruit smoothie and peanut butter on whole-wheat toast, followed by a granola bar and fruit for snack. Lunch can include a chicken sandwich, fruit and green salad or pasta salad followed by a snack of cereal and milk. Dinner may be comprised of chicken, rice, a sweet potato, green vegetables and milk, followed by yogurt and berries for dessert. In addition, athletes need sufficient water and carbohydrates during exercise, which can be supplied through a sports drink, followed by a post-workout snack such as chocolate milk.