On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! Nutrition Tips for Endurance Athletes

The topic of today’s post was requested by my dear buddy Lauren, who is one of the kindest and most hilarious people I know.  Lauren definitely needs to be giving her body the right fuel, because she does things like this.

Normally I would never post a picture of one of my friends in a bathing suit, but this was Lauren's Facebook profile picture, so I figured I'm safe.

So, today’s post is all about how to eat when you’re engaging in extreme exercise activities like races and triathlons (Do you think shopping counts?).  There are a lot of misconceptions out there, but I’m going to do my best to address four of them with the information I’ve been learning lately.

Is it true that I should load up on carbs the night before a race? NO!  Carbohydrates have many extremely valuable roles in the body, but providing long-term energy is not one of them.  Carbs provide a quick source of energy for our muscles, so they are better utilized right before a big workout, such as for breakfast on the day of the race (When I train, I go for a whole wheat English muffin with almond butter or a Clif Bar for breakfast on race day.).  If you eat a big plate of pasta the night before and don’t immediately use the energy, it just sits in your stomach during the night and makes you feel heavy the next day. As you might recall from my recent post, fats are the macro-nutrient that give you that long-burning fuel you need the night before pushing your body to its max, so don’t be afraid of that butter, olive oil, avocado or almonds.

What are electrolytes and what do they have to do with my workouts? Electrolytes are minerals that become capable of conducting electricity when dissolved in water.  In other words, water depends on electrolytes, for proper absorption, so you need them to stay hydrated! Electrolytes have four functions: They control the osmosis of water between fluid compartments, help to maintain the body’s pH balance, carry electrical current and are essential for optimal activity of enzymes.

When you exercise heavily, you lose electrolytes in your sweat, particularly sodium and potassium.  A great little trick for keeping your electrolytes up is to squeeze fresh lemon juice and throw a pinch of iodized sea salt into your water.  You can sip on that throughout the day before your evening workout, and it will help you stay better hydrated. 

Should I drink sports drinks to keep up my electrolytes? I can’t stress this enough: Always remember that there is no substitute for water! A lot of sports drinks boast their high number of electrolytes. Drinks like Gatorade can be appropriate at times, but just remember that they contain large amounts of sugar, so they’re not particularly beneficial for people who tend to be hypoglycemic (Blood sugar is abnormally low).  They can also induce insulin secretion, which produces more hunger.  I think sports drinks are okay, but only occasionally (such as race day) when you need to immediately replace the minerals that you are losing at a rapid pace.

There are 56 grams of sugar in a 32-ounce Gatorade! It also contains red and blue dye!

What about eating energy snacks like Gu gel and Shot Bloks to keep me going during my workouts? I feel the same way about these snacks as I do about the sports drinks.  They may be alright in extreme circumstances, such as the day of the race.  I don’t think they are great for regular use as many of them contain high amounts of sugar, chemicals, dyes, etc.  If I had to choose one over another, I would go with the Clif Shot Bloks because they don’t contain caffeine and they are sweetened with brown rice syrup.  Whole Foods and other natural food stores sell these almond and peanut butter packets.  They are a great mid-workout snack because they provide protein, carbs for immediate energy, and fat for long-burning fuel.

These would also be great to pack in your lunch or your child's lunch box with an apple!

I hope this post was helpful to you.  I think the best advice I can give to those extreme athletes out there is to eat as many properly prepared, nutrient dense, whole meals as they can and avoid falling into the fat-free/low-fat trap.  You need lots of good fat, protein and low-glycemic carbs (fruits and veggies) to keep yourself going.

Wow, all this talk of training makes me want to sign up for another race!  Have a great day everyone, and please keep the questions and requests coming!


Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings, Working on Our Fitness

3 responses to “On Your Mark, Get Set, Go! Nutrition Tips for Endurance Athletes

  1. Alice Honican

    I heard that Coconut Water is full of electrolytes. I saw some at Kroger!

  2. Oooh, great point Alice. I totally forgot to mention that. Coconut water is a great option. You can sip it throughout the day like the lemon water to keep you energized.

  3. Lauren

    I’m famous!! Love it. Thanks for the info.

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