Here at North Corner Studios, we have athlete’s that love to challenge and push themselves. We have a handful of members competing in the Ragnar in 18 days which is an ultra relay where participants will compete on a team to run a 200-mile relay. Another member will be riding in the STP, which is a 1-2 day bike ride from Seattle to Portland totaling approximately 202 miles. Our members are constantly competing in various endurance races, as well as challenges like the Spartan too!
In today’s blog, I will be going over five top questions that endurance athlete’s commonly ask. It’s awesome to challenge yourself as an endurance athlete, but you also need to educate yourself on how to properly train, especially when it comes to your nutrition and hydration needs. Failure to do so can result in injuries, deficiencies, and dehydration, all of which can be extremely dangerous. I want to see all of our endurance athlete’s properly taking care of themselves so they can rock their events and stay safe! Let’s just into the five questions …
Five questions commonly asked by endurance athlete’s
- Do I need to adjust my calorie/macronutrient levels to train for an endurance event? The short answer is yes! The more active you are, the higher your energy needs are, which will also increase your calorie needs. When your calories increase, so will the number of carbs, protein and fat your body needs as well. I recommend working with a coach/professional that can help you determine your specific calorie/macronutrient needs while training and completing your event. Since carbs should be the focus in endurance training/racing, let’s focus there. This will be your biggest energy source! A general rule of thumb is 6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight for endurance athletes exercising 1-3 hours per day. Ultra-endurance athletes exercising closer to 4-5 hours per day will need closer to 8-12 grams of carbohydrates per kilograms of body weight. (To determine your body weight in kilograms simply take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2). Carbohydrates should total approximately 50-65% of your total daily calories. Every person will be different based on their specific, unique body.
- Why do athletes “carb load” prior to endurance events? Carbohydrate loading is an effective way of maximizing muscle glycogen stores prior to an endurance event. This can increase energy supply and time to exhaustion. 6-7 days leading up to the event, athletes should taper the intensity of their training. This will allow your body to recover and replenish glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. During the taper period, carbohydrate levels should slowly be increased daily from 50-55% to 65-70%. During your taper period, you will need to decrease your calories while boosting your carb intake. The best way to decrease calories without sacrificing overall nutrition or carb intake is to temporarily cut back on fat intake. 36-48 hours before the event, increase carbohydrate intake to 10-12 grams per kilogram of body weight for events lasting longer than 90 minutes.
- Can I rehydrate with just water during an endurance event? The answer to this question is no! When we sweat we lose sodium, other electrolytes and long stints of activity diminish our carbohydrates, as they are used for energy. For endurance events or training lasting longer than 90 minutes, a sports beverage is recommended to replace carbohydrates, sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes. To determine the exact amount of fluids you need during training/events, you can work with a coach/professional to run a sweat trial. When it comes to sports beverages, here are a few things to be mindful of.
- Read the label – When it comes to any supplement you want to know exactly what you’re putting into your body. What is the carbohydrate source? What else is in it? Are there any “special claims?” You don’t want to just drink sports beverages blindly without knowing what your needs are. Some supplements will make “special claims” that you want to be aware of like: “Now with more vitamins!” or “will help you run faster.” At the end of the day, you do not want to exceed any of your recommended daily allowances for macro and micronutrients, including vitamins. Exceeding your daily requirements can cause issues such as stomach cramping and uncomfortable digestive issues, which you definitely don’t want during race time.
- Do not implement anything new the day of the race. Set up your nutrition/hydration regime ahead of time and work it into your training regime to make sure nothing bothers you and helps you to feel your best! Implementing new things on the day of the event when you don’t know how they will agree with your body, is super risky!
- Heavy sweaters will most likely need to drink a combination of water and sports beverages. Heavy sweaters lose more sodium and electrolytes so their hydration needs will be much higher. If they just drink sports beverages, they run the risk of going over in their carbs, sodium, and vitamins – which can leave them having uncomfortable digestive issues. A coach/professional will help a heavy sweater figure out the proper ratio of sports beverages and water.
- Do I need to ingest carbs and protein during my endurance event? During endurance events muscles rely heavily on blood glucose for fuel. To maintain blood glucose levels athletes need to ingest carbs while exercising. Consuming enough carbs can enhance endurance performance while consuming too many can lead to stomach cramping, intestinal discomfort, and diarrhea. A general rule of thumb is 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight – per hour of activity. This is something else athlete’s need to play with while they are training because every body is different. Some endurance athletes can handle up to 90 grams of carbs, while others can barely tolerate 45 grams. Play with it and listen to your body! Ingesting protein while you’re exercising is still a widely researched topic and there are different arguments for both side out there. While the primary focus should remain on carbohydrates, some studies feel a little bit of protein during endurance workouts can help.
- Protein has more of a salty flavor, which can encourage athletes to want to drink more fluids than they normally would. It can also help combat flavor fatigue, which is a real concern for endurance events lasting longer than 4 hours.
- If carbohydrate levels dip low, the body can tap into stored protein reserves for energy.
- Again, you must be careful with the levels because an excess of protein can lead to the delay of gastric emptying, which can lead to digestive issues. An excess in protein will also lead to the production of extra-urea. Going to the bathroom more often can cause dehydration to occur.
- When it comes to protein, look for easily digestible sources including sports drinks, energy bars, nut butters, trail mix, and meat jerky.
- How much protein and carbohydrates should I be ingesting after my event? To optimize replenishment of glycogen after endurance exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed as soon as possible after exercise, ideally 15-30 minutes after exercising. The short time between the end of activity and carbohydrate consumption allows for digestion, absorption, and delivery of carbohydrates when the muscles are most receptive to glycogen storage. A general rule of thumb is 1.0-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight every hour for four hours post exercise. Again protein replenishment is not as important as your carbohydrate replenishment, however, still important. Eating protein post-exercise aids in the recovery process. Benefits include enhancing the insulin response to accelerate glycogen synthesis and rebuilding of damaged muscle tissue. Approximately 15-25 grams of protein (or 0.25-0.3 grams per kilogram of body weight) 15-30 minutes post-exercise is sufficient.
I hope all of you endurance athletes find this information useful! Use it to tailor a plan that will not only help you rock your race but do so in the safest manner possible. If you’d like more specific info or support in putting a training/race plan in place, reach out to me or another professional you trust.