Dieting Nutrition

How should I eat to maximize endurance?

What’s for breakfast today? Green tea and oats with raisins, some ground almonds, and molasses.

oatmeal and tea

This is a good question. It’s an issue where people have taken a lot of different approaches, and people offer a lot of different advice. Still, there are some nutrition strategies that are better than others.

If you were never going to change your nutrition strategy and were always going to follow the same basic approach to all of your workouts, then I’d probably do something like the following:

– have a snack or light meal 1-3h before working out
– start eating ~1h into your workout, 150-350 kcal/hr depending on body size and workout intensity
– drink ~1 bottle per hour while working out (depending on weather and workout intensity)
– eat a solid meal with carbohydrate and protein right after your workout (carb: protein ratio between 3:1 and 5:1, calories around 400-1000, depending on intensity and volume)
– every day, eat a good balance of moderate to high carbohydrates (depending on training volume and intensity), moderate protein and moderate fat

That should be a pretty reliable approach. You’ll be able to work out effectively, reduce any short-term immune system suppression that might result from harder, longer workouts, and you’ll be able to recover fairly well and work out effectively again soon.

In the short term, probably the most effective way to enhance endurance is to consume copious amounts of carbohydrate. That is, day to day, you’ll feel the best of you’re well fueled. It’s the fuel that’s quicker to digest and easier to burn, so it’s what will make any given ride or series of rides better. And, if you’re a professional athlete with all of the time in the world to train, you will probably have enough volume of training that you need to consume a lot of carbohydrate daily to meet your energy demands. And, you will have ample endurance because no matter what you’re doing in your training, if you’re working out 20-25 hours per week, you’ll have good endurance.

But, if you’re trying to put a little thought into modifying your nutrition to try to improve your endurance or ability to perform in general, then there are things you could sometimes do to get a little more out of your body, maybe once or twice a month to try to stress your fat-burning capabilities a little bit extra. Especially if you’re a working professional who doubles as a part-time endurance athlete, it’s always worth exploring ways that you can modify or optimize your training, nutrition, or recovery routine to try to make the most of the limited training schedule you have. Some ideas follow:

– reduce your carbohydrate intake from high to moderate levels during a 2-3 day stretch of moderate to high volume training (assuming that you do not plan high intensity workouts on anything other than the first day), because each new day that you start workouts slightly depleted will force your body to become more efficient with the fuel it has

– do a long ride with 2/3 of the normal calorie intake (so you become slightly more depleted and force your body to rely more on fat during the later portions of the ride)

– do a long ride where you only start eating 90-120 minutes into the ride (again, so you become a bit more depleted and rely on fat more during the later stages of the ride)

– go out for a 2-3 hour easy endurance ride with half the normal food the day after a hard workout

– have a relatively low carbohydrate breakfast before your morning ride (the reduced carbohydrate intake will encourage your body to use a higher proportion of fat during your workout)

Just like modifying your training routine from time to time or doubling up on workouts, you can do similar things with your nutrition. Consider trying different approaches out and make note of how they affect your day-to-day sensations at the time, and how they affect your performance and sensations 3-6 weeks after introducing the new protocol into your schedule. Again, on the whole, a moderate to high carbohydrate diet will help your overall fitness by enabling you to have the moderate to high intensity workouts that you need for optimal fitness, but to enhance the lower-intensity, endurance end of your fitness, some small changes added on occasion can make a difference.

Again, on the whole, I’m not an advocate of having a giant plate of rice or pasta at every other meal, but there seems to be good evidence that on the whole, a moderate to high carbohydrate diet is what you need to have solid fitness as an endurance athlete. 90% of the time, try to make sure that you are getting enough carbohydrate to recover well and perform workouts strongly. But, consider doing a workout every other week, or a 2-3 day block of training every 3-4 weeks, where you experiment with a lower carbohydrate protocol to see if it enhances your endurance and fuel efficiency.

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