When it comes to endurance sports nutrition, it can all essentially be broken down into two categories: what to eat and when to eat. While most athletes, coaches, and dietitians focus on the what, in this blog we’ll focus on the much less discussed when, which is equally important.
An Ideal Training Day
Here is an ideal training/fueling routine which involves eating a big breakfast 2-3 hours before a morning workout. The majority of calories are taken in during the first half of the day, as lunch and dinner are light and meant to simply keep nutrients in the body and prevent hunger. Carbs are utilized early in the day to supplement the workout, but are limited as the day goes on. Lastly, each day is finished with 3 hours of fasting before bed.
This schedule simply does not work for most athletes due to their other obligations throughout the day, but the principles behind it are key to understanding nutritional timing in order to improve one’s own routine. Let’s take a deeper look:
1 Fuel adequately for workouts and maximize digestion: Never go into a workout hungry, but also don’t go into one with a full stomach. Avoid foods high in insoluble fiber before workouts, like raw vegetables, raw nuts, and certain types of fruit like oranges due to their difficulty to digest. By eating a regular meal, rich in complex carbs and healthy fats 2-3 hours before getting on the bike, the body has time to turn that food into fuel. This way, one starts their ride with an empty stomach and muscles filled with glycogen.
2 Metabolism is most efficient in the morning: As the day goes on, metabolism naturally slows, reaching it’s lowest rate late in the evening just before going to bed. With this, calories consumed earlier in the day will be utilized more efficiently to provide fuel to muscles and nutrients to aid in recovery. Excess calories consumed later in the day have a much higher probability of being stored as fat, rather than burned for fuel.
3 Going to bed on a full stomach hinders recovery: While one shouldn’t go to bed hungry, you shouldn’t go to sleep with a full stomach. During sleep, the endocrine system rebalances and secretes hormones like HGH which are incredibly important for recovery and the maintenance of a healthy and efficient metabolism. However, this process is hindered when the stomach is full, especially in the presence of excess carbohydrates.
4 Utilize carbohydrates to supplement workouts: Treat carbs as a “supplement” for workouts, while limiting them in day-to-day life outside of training. Carbs provide fast energy and are key to recovery. Consume complex carbs before a workout like whole grains; simple carbs (sugar) every hour during (if a multi-hour workout); and add simple carbs to the recovery drink in a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Remember, protein needs simple carbs in order to be efficiently taken into muscle cells and utilized for recovery.
5 Simulate your race day routine on hard workout days: If one’s races typically start at 8 a.m. it’s best to start their big workouts at 8 a.m. as well. Follow the race day routine to a T, mimicking everything from the contents of the favorite race day breakfast, to the duration of time (ideally 2-3 hours) likely to eat before the start gun goes off. By doing this, the race day routine becomes second nature which helps prevent nerves and surprise problems when the big event comes.
6 Finding a Balance: Training for endurance sports is all about finding a balance that works for not only for a person’s body but also their life. Most athletes will not be able to follow the above principles perfectly and that’s okay. The important thing is to be conscious of them and use this knowledge to make little adjustments in one’s daily routine to get the most out of their training.