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As a certified sports nutrition coach my clients are often in the midst of a rigorous training regimen for a race or endurance event. Proper workouts, strength conditioning and cross-training are all crucial elements of any endurance event preparation.
No training plan is bulletproof, but the quickest way to undercut all your hard work and sweat equity is poor nutrition. Mindful and balanced nutrition, on the other hand, can give you a competitive edge and make you feel good while you’re putting your body through the ringer preparing for then participating in an endurance event.
Over the next two months, I’ll walk your through how to fuel your body for endurance. This week we’ll focus on the dos and don’ts of a healthy diet one week pre-race.
Nutrition for Athletes: Fuel Your Body for Endurance
Over the years there has been much written about the benefits and importance of carb loading. Recently, the actual impact of this kind of nutritional approach to pre-race prep has been disputed.
I think part of this is due to widespread cultural carbo-phobia and increased prevalence of gluten intolerance, but I’m with the skeptics and here’s why: it’s all about balanced eating.
Eat a variety of whole grains, lean protein (including beans and animal proteins unless you’re vegetarian or vegan), healthy fats, loads of vegetables and lots of fruits too. The more colors you can get into your diet the better—it’ll help ensure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals your body needs to be healthy and function at its optimal performance level. Avoid alcohol, too much tea or coffee (diuretic and caffeine effects) and inflammation-inducing foods like refined sugar and starches, and all processed or “junk” foods.
Here are some basic guidelines on what and how much to eat:
Whole grains: 2-3 servings per day (oatmeal, quinoa, millet, farro, brown rice, buckwheat, etc)
Lean protein: 5-7 servings per day (eggs, lentils, beans, organic chicken, lean grass-fed beef, fish, lowfat plain yogurt, etc)
Fruit & Veggies: as much and as often as your heart and tummy desire
Healthy fats: 1-2 servings per day (avocados, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, seeds, etc)
Water: 10-12 cups (2-3 liters) per day for women; 12-14 cups (3+ liters) per day for men
As a general rule of thumb, aim for the following caloric breakdown with your daily dietary intake: 25-35% from fat, 15-20% from protein, and 55-60% from complex carbohydrates.
There’s a bigger focus on fats and less of a focus on proteins, unlike many popular diets that surface every now and again (The Zone, Atkins…the list goes on). Fats are essential for nutrient absorption. Without healthy fats, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K aren’t digested properly and used effectively in the body.
And a quick aside on protein here: for the average joe, recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 0.8—1 g protein per kg body weight (2.2kg/1lb); for those performing intermittent high intensity activity—aka Active Life DC readers—RDA is 1.1—1.4g/kg. Contrary to what GNC might have you believe, the average diet provides adequate protein and there is no need for supplementation—unless you’re big into lifting and getting ripped. And while proteins form the structural basis of muscles it is a MINOR source of fuel for exercise.
Even though this article is about “one week pre-race” eating, athletes can and should eat like this throughout the duration of their training program. The more you can get yourself in the habit of eating like this, the easier and less time-consuming it will become. Start early, experiment with new recipes and ingredients often, and get to the night before the big deal feeling confident that you’ve done all that you can to fortify and fuel your body for optimal performance.