Nutrition and Fueling for Endurance Athletes- Sports Nutrition Basics Part 1

By: Breanne Nalder, MS, RDN

Here is Part 1 of a new blog series from our partners at Plan7 Endurance Coaching.


As athletes, we are always working to improve performance. Proper nutrition can help you reach your athletic potential, so being well-fueled is crucial to getting the most out of each workout. Here are some basic tips on how you can use food to your athletic advantage.

Both whole foods and sport nutrition products play roles in your diet. Plan your meals and snacks based on time, convenience, and your own likes and dislikes. To be sure that your body gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs, every meal should be mostly carbohydrates, some protein (emphasis on plant sources), healthy fats for flavor, and LOTS of colorful fruits and vegetables!


Macronutrients include carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and hydration (water = electrolytes). Endurance athletes must focus on carbohydrates as 50-65% of total caloric intake, depending on the duration and intensity of the training and/or race schedule. The second macro we rely on for endurance sport is fat, and we need 20-30% of total calories to come from healthy fats. Protein should be 15-25% of endurance athletes calories, and we only use proteins for recovery, not as fuel for activity.


Not only are carbs our main fuel for skeletal muscles during high- intensity exercise (tempo-threshold efforts), they are the ONLY fuel source our brains use for concentration and mental sharpness (this is why we bonk if we don’t keep up on carbs during endurance sport).

✓ Choose whole grains, fruits, & veggies

✓ Have a carb-rich meal/snack 1-4 hours before training ✓Choose easily digestible carbs

✓Use a sport drink to get carbs and electrolytes for workouts over 45 minutes or in the heat



The energy source for low intensity exercise, fat helps send messages in the body, aids in vitamin and mineral absorption, and reduces inflammation in the body.


Builds & repairs muscles, transports nutrients & maintains hydration, and protects immune our immune system

✓Include a small amount of protein with every meal and snack ✓Aim for ~10g of protein after training and 10-20g both before and after lifting sessions

✓Daily intake <1.0g/lb or < 2.5g/kg


The HOW TO Prepare Guide: Before/During/After Training and Racing


The pre-meal should be 2-4 hours before start time, and should consist of mostly carbohydrates, with moderate proteins and fats. A high-fat, high-protein meal just before exercise will delay digestion and slow carbohydrate release and may also cause discomfort during exercise. The size of pre-event meals will vary based on energy needs, intensity level of competition, duration of exercise, gender, and body size. The following meals offer some guidelines and give you some examples of foods to consider.

Breakfasts ideas

* Oatmeal or cereal with almond milk (add nuts and fresh or dried fruit for more flavor and energy)

* Toast, English muffin, or a rice cake with 1-2 Tbsp PB, honey, and sliced banana and 4-8 ounces 100% orange juice

* Eggs (only 1 yolk if any) on toast with salt/pepper, and a smoothie with fresh/frozen fruit, banana, almond milk

Lunch ideas

* Sandwich with turkey, avocado, veggies OR Almond butter and banana; 15-20 pretzels/ crackers; 1 cup 100% juice or sport drink

* Pasta or rice bowl with tuna, chicken, or garbanzo beans. Use cooked veggies add vinaigrette dressing or soy sauce, a piece of fruit, and water

* Baked potato or sweet potato with olive oil/salt/pepper, 1⁄2 cup of nuts/trail mix, apple, water

* Wrap or pita with chicken or tuna salad (try making with hummus or avocado instead of mayonnaise), cucumber, mini carrots, a couple baked chips and salsa


Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source during exercise. Dietary carbohydrates (grains, fruit, starchy veggies, juice and sport drinks) are stored in the liver and in the muscle as glycogen. During exercise, these glycogen stores fuel working muscles. How soon we run out of energy depends on workout intensity. So, hard and intense workouts decrease glycogen stores more quickly than moderate exercise bouts. Glycogen stores are limited, so during exercise lasting more than 60-90 minutes choose foods you prefer and can tolerate. 30-60g of carb/hour will help keep you fueled and feeling strong.

Consuming carbohydrates while exercising can help improve performance by:

– Reducing risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

– Providing fuel for actively working muscles

– Sparing protein (you don’t want your body to start breaking down muscle for energy)

– Preventing “bonking” or “hitting the wall” which can force you to slow down or stop


A few tips on choosing nutrition DURING exercise:

Practice your nutrition plan before trying new foods in competition! You don’t want to find out on race day that your stomach doesn’t tolerate a particular gel, chew, or sport drink.

Stay hydrated! Set a timer to teach yourself to drink something every 20 minutes. If you use sport drinks and gels, you are likely getting the carbohydrates and electrolytes you need and don’t even have to pack food in your pockets.

Avoid “over-nutrition” both before and during competition! Sticking to to the 30-60g CHO per hour Keep your pre-race meal moderate in protein and low in fat

Limit high-fiber foods, NSAIDS, alcohol, caffeine, antibiotics, & other medications around exercise. Save yourself stomach upset by waiting until after your work out. That’s more likely when you’ll enjoy those things anyway!


It is crucial to refill your gas tank after you have burned through the fuel, right? Same for our bodies. In fact, we have a 30-minute window for recovery nutrition so that the body can efficiently rebuild and prepare for the next training bout or race. Not recovering properly leads to fatigue and decreased performance. Help your body replenish lost fluid and nutrients, repair damaged tissue, and prepare for the next workout with the right recovery foods.

Aim for the following amounts of each essential nutrient:

Fluids: 1.5 L for every kg lost in sweat

Electrolytes: 0.3-0.7 g sodium/L of fluid

Carbohydrates: 1.2 g/kg immediately after for 4-6 hrs

Protein: 0.4 g/kg every 30 min for 3-5 hrs in combination with CHO (0.8 g/kg)

Recovery in 3 stages

1.) Snack + Fluid (0-30 min) Carbohydrate & 10-15g protein. Examples: PB&J, Fruit and yogurt, chips and salsa/guac, sport bar or recovery mix. Chocolate milk or your own smoothie creation all work well too.

2.) Meal + Fluid (next 1-2 hrs) Balance carbs, lean proteins, low fats. Examples: Pasta with tomato sauce, veggies & chicken, a turkey and veggie sandwich, crackers with hummus & fruit, or a stir-fry with rice, veggies, & lean protein.

3.) Snack + Fluid (within 3 & 4 hrs) Carbohydrate & 10-15g protein. Examples: another round of a snack that sounds good that can be similar to the ideas from stage 1. Listen to your body… If you crave sugar, have some fruit and nuts. If you crave salt, then the chips and salsa will hit the spot.

Recovery nutrition is important for combatting fatigue early in workouts. If you are feeling heavy legs, decreased concentration, thirst, dry mouth/skin, lack of motivation, or if you get ill or injured frequently, you are likely not recovering well.

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2018-04-12T18:26:01+00:00 April 12th, 2018|