Most of us will never need to eat that much.
But endurance sports, whether you’re running a marathon or a 5K, do require a different approach to nutrition, starting with doubling your carbohydrate intake.
Your nutrition targets (your macros)
6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/day)
1.4 to 1.6 g/kg/day
20 percent or more of your daily calories
Sports nutritionist Melissa Boufounos recommends eating a well-balanced meal three to four hours before exercising. “Then, top off your fuel tank with an easy-to-digest snack 60 minutes before your workout,” she says. “This snack should be high carb, low fat, low protein, and low fibre (like a piece of [low-fibre] fruit or an English muffin).”
Your body converts carbs into glycogen, which your muscles use for energy. If your endurance training lasts longer than an hour and a half, you’ll likely use up most of your stored glycogen.
This calls for a mid-workout snack. “It’ll delay fatigue and maintain performance, especially near the end of a longer training session,” says Boufounos.
She suggests 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise—the maximum your body can absorb. “Try easy-to-digest foods like dates, raisins, or bananas,” she adds.
Endurance foods and supplements
It can be tricky refuelling on the go. “Try gels or chews that are specifically designed for athletes, or even baby food pouches,” says Boufounos.
The nitrates in beets may improve muscle endurance for cyclists and other endurance athletes. Additional nitrate-rich vegetables include celery and spinach, which are perfect for smoothies. “This is why I encourage athletes to get enough veggies in their diets,” explains Boufounos. “For the best results, consume two hours before exercise.”
Caffeine (typically dosed at 200 mg) may improve race speeds and endurance. An 8 oz (250 mL) cup of coffee has 95 mg, and for most adults, a total intake of 400 mg a day is safe.
Big meals, big gains: Nutrition for building muscle
Strength training demands a minimum of 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (double what the average adult needs). Some bodybuilders even aim for the upper range of 2.2 g/kg/day.
Your nutrition targets
6 to 10 g/kg/day
1.6 to 2.2 g/kg/day
20 percent or more of your daily calories
“For the best absorption, space out your protein between three meals, plus a pre-workout or afternoon snack,” suggests Robert Herbst, a certified personal trainer and 19-time world champion powerlifter.
Sources of healthy, muscle-building protein include legumes, Greek yogurt, salmon, soy products like tempeh and tofu, and protein shakes.
Protein shakes also make an ideal pre-workout snack.
“You want to eat something that will give you the energy to strength train, but not be so hard to digest that it makes you feel sluggish or bloated,” says Herbst. “I take 20 grams of whey protein in water an hour before strength training. This gives me energy and hydration but doesn’t weigh me down.”
And don’t worry about a mid-workout snack. “If a workout is intense enough [to build muscle], it typically won’t last long enough to deplete your glycogen stores like running a marathon,” explains Herbst. “However, some find it helpful to take branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) during a workout to support muscle growth.”
Bodybuilding foods and supplements
It’s the quickest, easiest way to hit your protein macros. Whey protein is considered by some to be the best option, but plant-based alternatives like pea protein also help build lean muscle mass.
It reduces muscle fatigue so you can lift heavier. Athletes taking beta-alanine for six weeks gained a pound more of lean muscle compared to athletes taking placebos.
Testosterone builds and maintains muscle. Supplements that may help maintain healthy testosterone levels include vitamin D and ashwagandha.
Cut calories, keep energy: Hitting a healthy weight
If you’re exercising with weight loss in mind, you’ll want to pay some attention to your macros (high protein and moderate carbohydrates).
But more importantly, you need to burn more calories than you eat.
“It’s called a calorie deficit,” explains registered dietitian Conor McCrink. This deficit forces your body to use its stored fat for fuel.
That creates an obvious conundrum. McCrink warns, “As you restrict fuel going into the body, this may begin to impact training performance”—leading to fatigue and exhaustion.
Researchers recommend that athletes aim for a deficit of 300 to 500 calories a day to lose weight but maintain workout momentum.
Don’t sacrifice your pre- and mid-workout meals (following the general guidelines above for endurance or strength). If you’re concerned about your weight, yet need carbs to fuel your exercise, opt for foods that are lower on the glycemic index.
Low-GI foods are associated with improved weight loss and weight maintenance. Examples include
- non-starchy vegetables
- steel-cut oats
- some fruits, such as pears and berries
- whole-grain foods
Lifestyle habits also matter if your energy gets low. “Manage your sleep, stress, and recovery for optimal energy and gym performance,” says McCrink. “Some people also feel more energetic at certain times of the day (e.g., morning versus evening workouts).”
Foods and supplements for weight management
Most attempts at weight loss falter because we don’t stick with healthy dietary changes. McCrink says eating more protein and fibre has the “greatest impact” on diet adherence. High-protein meals support your metabolism and general weight loss and preserve muscle while you lose weight.
More fruits and vegetables
Fibre from fruits and vegetables helps you lose weight by keeping you feeling full. That’s one reason plant-based diets are associated with significantly lower rates of obesity.
Probiotic supplements may improve exercise recovery and athletic performance. Plus, a healthy gut has been linked to healthy weight levels and improved weight loss.
Soothe the stomach
Up to 70 percent of athletes report nausea, cramping, and other gastrointestinal problems when working out.
Watch what you eat
Avoid dairy products and high-fat foods before exercise.
Practise deep breathing
It helps with nausea, side stitches, and stitches caused by gas, abdominal spasms, and more. It also calms your nerves if competitive anxiety is making you queasy.
Take a break
When you’re exercising, blood gets redirected from your gut to your muscles. This can cause vomiting and other GI issues. Take a break or reduce your workout intensity.
Check your posture
Your posture—for example, leaning forward on a bike—may affect symptoms. Always use proper form, and adjust your body positioning to see if that helps.