Year-Round Nutrition Program
By implementing a year-round nutrition program in conjunction with their training program, endurance athletes can reap the benefits of enhanced health, improved performance, and better control of weight and body composition. Remember that the eating program should ebb and flow just as the training does; the athlete’s physical performance will be much more supported when nutrition matches the needs of physical training. The most important nutrients to consume during training are carbohydrate, fluid, and electrolytes. Table 4.1 provides recommendations for the intake of carbohydrate, protein, and fat during each training cycle. These recommendations are discussed in further detail in upcoming sections.
Endurance athletes commonly make the following two errors in carrying out their nutrition programs:
- Inadequate hydration during and after training. Hydration is essential for optimal performance and optimal recovery. Athletes who ingest too little fluid will compromise the effectiveness of training and will increase the length of time it takes to recover from training.
- Not maintaining an appropriate nutrient intake on a day-to-day basis. Athletes and coaches need to recognize that ingesting too many calories is just as detrimental as ingesting too few calories. Ingesting too many calories can lead to weight gain, usually in the form of adipose. Ingesting too few calories minimizes training effectiveness and the recovery from training. Nutrition periodization helps ensure that nutrient intake is based on training load.
Nutrition for the Preparatory Cycle
In addition to the athlete’s physical goals, losing weight and improving body composition may also be a high priority during the preparatory cycle. Daily carbohydrate intake depends on body weight and activity level:
- For moderate-duration and low-intensity training (1 to 3 hours per day), the recommended daily intake is 4 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight.
- For moderate to heavy training (3 to 4 hours per day), the recommended daily intake is 7 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight.
- For extreme training (4 to 6 hours or more per day), the recommended daily intake is 10 or more grams per kilogram of body weight.
Most endurance athletes will not likely fall into the extreme training category during this cycle. Until training volume significantly increases, a general recommendation is that the majority of carbohydrates come from fruits and vegetables, because these foods contain a good balance of beneficial vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. A good goal would be to eat 6 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. This may sound like a lot, but the serving sizes of fruits and vegetables are fairly small. Athletes can distribute the servings throughout the day by eating 1 or 2 servings every meal and snack. This makes it much easier to ensure that an adequate amount is eaten. Whole grains can be included in controlled amounts to satisfy carbohydrate needs.
Daily protein intake can range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight depending on the athlete’s goals for body weight. Athletes should choose the leanest sources of protein, such as low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat, chicken, turkey, or fish without skin or visible fat.
The recommended amount of fat to be consumed on a daily basis remains relatively low at 0.8 to 1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. The types of fat that are most beneficial include monounsaturated (found in avocados, olives, and nuts) and polyunsaturated, specifically omega-3 fats (found in salmon, trout, walnuts, and flax products). At all costs, athletes need to minimize the intake of saturated and trans fats found in processed and snack foods and high-fat meats.
Some athletes make losing weight and reducing body composition a primary goal during the preparatory training cycle. If an athlete falls into this category, the recommended daily intake of carbohydrate should be reduced to 3 or 4 grams per kilogram of body weight. A higher amount of protein—from 1.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight per day—should be included; this intake of protein should have a special emphasis on branched-chain amino acids because they have a higher satiety factor (they keep a person fuller), which will help stabilize blood sugar. A person with a stable blood sugar level will eat less throughout the day, so including a good source of lean protein at each meal and snack is important. Continue to keep fat intake around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight.