Eating for Endurance: The Critical Link Between Nutrition and Training Success

sports performance training nutrition Oct 01, 2023
The critical link between nutrition and training success

There is something that every endurance athlete knows. To achieve results, you have to put the work in. It is almost impossible to be successful at an endurance event without doing the training beforehand. Now, here’s something that not everybody understands, the nutrition for each of those training sessions has a direct impact on how efficient those sessions are.

It is not just about the fuel

Food is fuel. That’s something that most athletes understand. For a car to move, it needs to have petrol, just as your body needs food. However, it doesn’t stop there. Continuing with the car analogy, food is also the lubricant, the cleaning agent and all the tiny elements that keep your machine running smoothly and efficiently. So, if you want your body to operate as efficiently as possible, you don’t only need energy. You also need the nutrients for it.

When you get the energy and nutrients also makes a difference

Even though it is crucial, it’s not only sufficient to get the energy and nutrients in. When you get them plays a key role in how your body utilises them. It’s not the same eating an energy gel while you’re madly sending emails from your desk than eating it in the middle of a run.

Eating the right type of energy at the right time can make a big difference in supporting the objectives of your training session.

The purpose behind training

So we know that to get results, we need to train. But how does that work? The main purpose of training is to trigger physiological adaptations in your body, which eventually will translate into improved performance. In other words, training tells your body that something needs to change, and the physiological adaptations make the change happen. As a result, the next time you attempt the same stimuli, your body is more efficient, stronger and faster.

Now, we know that different training sessions trigger various adaptations. That’s why your coach has you doing long, steady runs or rides, intervals, hill repeats and much more. Each of these sessions has a different purpose in promoting a specific change in your body.

The role nutrition plays in

When it comes to training, there are two objectives that nutrition needs to meet:

  • Allow the session to be effective.
  • Allow the session to be efficient.

Effective session

Getting the session done and doing the session as requested are two different things. An effective training session is one you can complete according to plan. This means that if you were supposed to run ten sets of 1km at 5 min/km, you could complete each set as requested, with set number 10 being as good as number 1.

To achieve this, your body needs to have the right energy. Without this, it will be hard for the training session to be of optimal quality.

Efficient session

An efficient session achieves the purpose it was set to accomplish. This is when the training adaptations commence. For these adaptations to occur, your body needs both energy and nutrients. These are the critical building blocks allowing your body to operate adequately. Without them, rather than training being an enabler, it becomes a burden.

Key nutrition considerations for training

A training strategy considers three critical moments in the training process. These are what you eat before, during and after training.

Nutrition before training

As an endurance athlete, your body relies on carbohydrate and fat as fuel sources. The higher the intensity and the longer the training session duration, your body will utilise more carbohydrate. This is why your body needs enough glycogen before the session starts.

These are some essential key points to consider:

  • Fasted training. Your body uses some of your glycogen while sleeping, which means your fuel may be a bit low by the time you are heading to your session. Avoid fasted training if you plan to exercise longer than 1 hour or have an interval training session.
  • Gut comfort. Keep fat and fibre low in the lead-up to your session to avoid stomach upset while training.
  • Hydration. To support your performance, it is essential to ensure your body is well hydrated before starting your session.

Nutrition during training

For training sessions longer than 1 hour, considering additional fuel while exercising is important to allow your body to sustain the effort. The longer the activity, the more critical it will be to consume energy. In most cases, this energy should predominantly come from low-fibre, low-fat carbohydrate foods or products.

Nutrition after training

This is when your body is the most receptive to replenishing what you have used during your training and to support the training adaptations. Including carbohydrate, protein, and fluid is critical to assist with this recovery.

The final remarks

As you can see, developing a plan that allows you to fuel effectively to support the effort you’re already putting into training is important for each of those sessions to pay off and get the most out of them.

Most people think of their nutrition as what they will need to consume during the race and dedicate considerable time and effort to putting a plan together for it. However, they’re leaving a lot on the table by ignoring the huge benefit they can get by planning their nutrition for optimal training.