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What to eat when competing in endurance sports

Runners taking part in a marathon race, an endurance sport
You’re asking a lot from your body, so it’s important to give it the fuel it needs to achieve your goals. 
Whichever sport you’re about to take part in, be it a hike, cycle ride or a marathon, what you eat will help or hinder your final result and have an impact on whether you reach the finish line.

Sports nutrition 

Eating right and staying hydrated is vital to help you perform well, reduce your risk of injury and ensures you recover after completing the event. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is the key to success.

Carbohydrates 

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy the body will use to fuel exercise and sporting events. Stored easily in the body as glycogen, or glucose, to use quickly and effectively when exercising. The reserves are used to power your muscles, and you, right through right till the end. Low amounts of glycogen stores can cause muscle fatigue and result in not being able to complete high intensity exercise. 

Many athletes up their intake of carbohydrates (carb-loading) in the days before a big event when they reduce their training to ensure enough glycogen is available to fuel their body when it comes to the event. Carb-loading is advised to those that are competing in events that involve 90minutes or longer, with the rate of 10-12g per kg of body weight. Carb-loading delays the onset of fatigue by approximately 20% too. 

Include bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans and pulses into your training diet. Plus, they’re packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre that will benefit your overall health.

Protein 

Protein is a vital part of a training diet used to aid the growth and repair of body tissues like your muscles. For endurance athletes, you’ll need around 1.2-1.7g of protein per kilogramme of your body weight a day in your diet. For example, for someone that weighs 77kg, they’ll need around 92.4g to 130g of protein per day. This can be achieved by eating your regular meals or via sports supplements like whey protein.

Fats 

An essential part of all diets, fats help the body to absorb nutrients and are a great source of energy, however, they should be eaten in moderation to avoid excess weight gain.

Fluids 

Keeping hydrated is essential for both performance and recovery. We all know that when we exercise, we lose water through our sweat, so replenishing these levels to avoid dehydration is vital. Extreme loss of water through sweat can cause tiredness and hinder your overall performance. Opt for plain old simple water, or sports drinks.

The golden rules to marathon prep 

Don’t overload 
Many runners are in the mind-set that the more food the better the day before a marathon. Making sure your carbohydrate stores are full and replenished is a must as already covered, but over-eating can make you feel uncomfortably full and add to the sluggishness of the taper. Adding a couple of sports drinks to your day will help increase your carb intake by approx 100-150g without giving you that full, sluggish feeling from oversized bowls of pasta. Be prepared to put on a little bit of weight as for every gram of glycogen that is stored, you also store 3g of water.

Keep it simple 
Nutrition should be tailored to your goals and body-type, and some people have a stomach that can tolerate anything. But if you’re unsure about what you should or shouldn’t eat, it’s best to keep things simple. Have your largest meal at lunchtime the day before the race and have something easy in the evening like fish, jacket potato and salad. Avoid anything that is too high in fat as this may cause stomach problems later on. In the morning of the marathon, keep in mind anything that is particularly high in fat and or protein will take longer to digest than carbohydrate.

Hydrate 
You don’t need to be surgically attached to your water bottle for 24 hours before the marathon. Be sensible and just make sure you are well hydrated, and your urine is a clear colour. In the morning of the race, have 300-500ml when you wake and have small sips leading up the race to avoid queueing for the portaloo! Think about your environment too, if it is hot you will need to pay even more attention to hydration.

Plan ahead
Looking at what time you want your breakfast (ideally three hours before race) and if you need to bring a snack (banana/energy bar) with you to have an hour before race starts. If you’re staying in a hotel the night before, make sure you phone ahead to see if they will cater for you or simply bring your own provisions! Always keep in mind that sometimes things don’t always go to plan so think of ways you can deal with this if it happens.

Marathon shopping list

Almonds - High in monounsaturated fats and protein, studies show that eating a handful of almonds a week could 
drastically reduce bad cholesterol and decrease heart disease risk. 
BCAA’s - These three aminos are essential for boosting strength and endurance, and help with energy production and avoiding fatigue syndrome – vital if you’re planning a monumental run! 
Wholegrain bread - Experts recommend 100 per cent wholegrain bread for marathon participants, as wholegrains help balance cholesterol and are a perfect source of carbohydrates. Try it toasted topped with peanut butter and banana for a great breakfast the morning of.
Whey protein - The fitness industry no longer thinks of protein powder as exclusively for body builders – protein recovery is essential for all kinds of athletes who want to increase their performance and aid recovery. 
Dark chocolate - Dark chocolate is great for post-training recovery, as it contains minerals like manganese, copper and magnesium that help support proper blood circulation and muscle contraction. 

This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy for Men, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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