Sports nutrition for endurance athletes
“Ultimately, the athlete who optimizes post exercise nutrition after an acute bout of exercise will be best positioned to maintain or enhance performance during a subsequent bout and/or to adapt, over time, to the repeated stress of multiple exercise bouts (i.e., training)”
What this means: the athlete who takes their post exercise recovery period seriously, and who tailors their post exercise nutrition strategy to that days and/or the following days’ demands, will be best placed to train optimally once again. Repeating this practice over the long term would seem beneficial in maintaining training intensity and adapting to the training stimulus, thus giving the athlete every chance of performance enhancement.
NB: low carbohydrate strategies to improve performance are gathering momentum in the scientific literature, with more and more evidence suggestive of metabolic and physiological changes when carbohydrates are restricted for some period (e.g. before, during or after) of the training regimen. This article, however, will deal with situations where high carbohydrate availability is targeted.
I will summarise a recent paper HERE that discusses the most recent recommendations for endurance athletes recovering from training
Where two training sessions occur on the same day, and the time between two training sessions is roughly 8 hours, is it recommended that an aggressive post exercise nutrition strategy is pursued so as to take advantage of the greater rate of muscle glycogen resynthesis in the first 60 minutes post exercise. Immediate ingestion of carbohydrates after session 1 is necessary to ensure rapid replenishment of carbohydrate stores, guaranteeing optimal preparation for the second session later that day. Avoid ingesting carbohydrates soon after session 1 and one runs the risk of sub-optimal glycogen storage come session 2, in which the training intensity of session two could be compromised. Thus, the timing of carbohydrate ingestion after session one DOES – where the time between sessions hovers at about 8 hours – dictate the speed and completeness of glycogen restoration. Where the time between two sessions is longer, perhaps 12-24 hours, the immediate ingestion of carbohydrates after session one is not necessary, such that a slight delay in carbohydrate ingestion still results in optimal glycogen stores 12-24 hours later, when the second session commences.
Example: 1 bagel (with additions); 60g oats (as porridge or pancake); smoothie (made with milk or fruit juice)
It is also suggested that 1g per Kg of bodyweight per hour of carbohydrate is consumed. Thus, for a 70kg athlete, 70g of carbohydrates per hour in the 3-5 hours following session one is recommended. This will depend on the duration and intensity of the sessions that day. A carbohydrate intake of between 4g & 7g per Kg of bodyweight over the course of the day would be recommended, in order to support training and meet caloric requirements. Higher intakes, between 10 & 12 g per Kg are commonplace in research articles and nutrition textbooks, and may be encountered at the elite end of sport. (* I personally feel this is on the ‘high’ side, and haven’t often found it necessary, or realistic, to be this specific with athletes who also work/have a life)
Action: Two sessions per day = 1g of carbohydrate for every Kg of bodyweight each hour or two after session 1. Do this for the following 3-5 hours in preparation for session 2. Avoid eating too close to session 2, and adopt as normal an eating pattern as possible
Example: immediately post training session (1), consume a bowl of porridge with banana and berries (and protein addition). 90 – 120 minutes later, have a bagel with suitable (protein) additions. Follow this with some rice, vegetables (and suitable protein addition).
A small amount of high quality protein appears sufficient to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis at any one time, and this too would be recommended in the post exercise recovery period. After a training stimulus, there’s a breakdown in ‘proteins’, including muscle and mitochondria proteins. These proteins require replacing & regeneration, and the consumption of exogenous or external protein here helps facilitate this process. This remodeling of metabolic and muscle proteins is key to long term adaptation to greater and greater training stimuli. Roughly 20g of high quality protein appears sufficient at any one time to do this, with a significantly greater amount serving only to be excreted or used as fuel. That being said, it would appear prudent for an endurance athlete to increase their intake of protein slightly, given their high energy expenditure (due to training).
Action: Consume 20-30g of high quality protein, along with ingestion of first carbohydrate meal, immediately after training. Repeat ingestion of 20-30g protein at each meal, 4-6 times per day, spaced 3-4 hours apart.
*High quality protein includes: chicken, egg, whey
Example: bagel with smoked salmon or three eggs; 60g oats as porridge or pancake with whey shake; smoothie made with milk, nut butter and greek yoghurt
In addition, Protein intake over the day should be in the region of 1.8-2g per Kg of bodyweight. For example, for a 70kg athlete, protein intake in the region of 140g should be optimum to support muscle protein synthesis and avoid muscle protein breakdown, such that protein balance is at least maintained.
Sports nutrition for endurance athletes is forever evolving, giving the constant revelation of new insights from research investigation. That being said, there appears to be more enduring an stable principles that remain constant, despite other shifts in thinking regarding nutrition for endurance athletes. For instance, those who recover better are better positioned to maintain or enhance performance. Optimal recovery involves the external supply of nutrients, including carbohydrates and proteins, which aid in the restoration of glycogen stores (carbs) and the remodeling of proteins (protein). The remodeling of proteins i.e. mitochondria and myofibrillar proteins, facilitated by amino acids from the protein we consume, ultimately translates in performance improvement.
Between two sessions on the same day – and where glycogen restoration is actively pursued – an aggressive recovery strategy is required. 70-80g carbohydrates and 20-30g protein is optimal in the first meal post training, with further carbohydrate ingestion each hour in the 2-4 hours thereafter, at a similar dose. 20-30g protein should be consumed less frequently, perhaps once every 3 hours, in a similar dose also.