Nutrition Tip: Fueling for Endurance

By Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD at MV Nutrition

All endurance athletes know that nutrition is an integral part of training and ultimately, their time when they finally cross that finish line. They also know that carbohydrates are essential at every meal and snack during training—but why?

Well because carbohydrates are the pre-dominant fuel source during moderate to high-intensity exercises with extended duration. In other words, if you’re logging workouts that are greater than 90 minutes, you need to be sure to get your carbohydrate on by eating a carb-based food, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lentils, and/or beans at all meal and snack times. This is needed to replenish your limited carbohydrate stores (liver and muscle glycogen), and most importantly, to allow you to be ready for tomorrow’s training session.

Now, how many carbs do you need per day? For one to two hours of daily training, 2.5-3.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound are needed each day. If training longer, 2-3 hours per day, 3.5-6.6 grams of carbohydrate per pound are required daily. Yet, it’s not only important to get in enough carbohydrates each day, but to get them in at the right time—before, during, and after the run.

For example, endurance athletes want to eat 0.5-2.2 grams of carb per pound of body weight one to four hours before a run or race, respectively. Thus, a 120-pound runner is looking to get in 60 grams of carb before a one-hour run, such as 1 large banana (30 grams carb) with 1 cup of orange juice (30 grams carb). If her run was 4 hours away, she’d want to eat 264 grams of carbohydrate before she started hitting the pavement.

During exercise, endurance athletes want 30-60 grams of carb every hour as either food or fluid—whatever works best for you. Two cups or 16 fl oz of a sports drink generally has 25-30 grams of carb and an energy gel pack has about 25 grams of carb.

Finally, when you complete the 90-plus minute workout, you want to refuel within 30 minutes, taking in 0.7 grams of carb per pound of body weight and then another 0.7 grams per pound of body weight two hours later to replenish glycogen stores. A little protein, 6-15 grams, along with the carb also helps enhance muscle glycogen replacement. For example, one cup of fruit-flavored yogurt (46 grams of carb + 10 grams protein) with 1/3 cup of dried fruit (37 grams of carb) is an example of a good post-workout snack for a 120 pound runner, requiring about 84 grams of carb 30 minutes after the run (120 ×0.7 = 84 grams carb). This runner would then want to eat another 84 grams of carbohydrate with some protein, again, two hours later.

Happy training!

Corinne Dobbas, MS, RD believes that optimal health starts with the activity that you do every day—eat. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) with a Masters in Nutrition. With an outstanding education and a unique approach to counseling, Corinne tailors nutrition to your body and lifestyle to drive behavior change and get you results. You can find Corinne in San Francisco at MV Nutrition. Contact her today to help you reach your goals!

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