Improving physical endurance with nutrition

I have another guest post from the Natural Alternative Health & Wellbeing website regarding endurance and nutrition (always a tricky thing to nail!). Enjoy!

 

If your New Year resolution was to get fitter in 2017, or if you were already interested in exercise and would like some healthy tips then this article is for you. In this article we explore using nutrition to help boost your endurance to get you that faster time and finish in a better condition whatever your endurance sport.

Timing

Months in advance of a sporting event practice eating and drinking whilst exercising to find out which items work for you. Some people have robust digestion and can eat shortly before exercise, and some people can only exercise on an empty stomach. If you are taking part in an event find out which foods/drinks are available en route so you can start using these during your training to get your body used to them.

As nutritional therapists we often advise people to generally follow low Glycaemic Index/Glycaemic Load (GI/GL) foods to maintain a healthy weight, but during intense exercise these are not the best rules to follow. Exercise requires meal s to have a higher carbohydrate content so there should be some fat or protein to lower the GI/GL but don’t overdo it – the diet of someone exerciseing should be mostly carbohydrates. Add unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts), lean protein, low fat dairy to supplement the carbohydrates ensuring you combine 1 low GI/GL food with each meal (e.g. dried fruit). Popular snacks/light meals include: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, apple with chocolate milk or fruit and yogurt smoothie.

To make sure you are getting enough variety of carbohydrates into your diet here are some examples of what you could use:

  • Breakfast – orange juice, 1.5 cup rolled oats, banana, and wholemeal toast with peanut butter
  • Morning snack – mini box of raisins and ½ bagel
  • Lunch – 2 slices wholemeal bread, ½ tin tuna, 1 tbsp mayo, lettuce and tomato, 6oz yogurt, 1oz pretzels, 1.5 cups grape juice
  • Mid afternoon snack – apple plus 12 almonds
  • Dinner – 2 cups cooked wholewheat pasts, 1 cup tomato sauce, 2oz cooked beef/chicken/seafood, lettuce, 1 cup sorbet for desert
  • After dinner snack – cup of milk plus 6 figs

In the week leading up to the event start to consume even more carbohydrate – approximately 8-10g per kg body weight per day, this can be in the form of pasta, rice, potatoes. Beware not to load up with too much fat e.g. cheesy pasta which leads to poorly fuelled muscles and bigger fat cells. Instead pick pasta with tomato, or honey on toast.

On the morning of the event eat familiar foods which you know you can tolerate. Maybe liquid meal replacements if solid food is not good (this should be tried in advance during your training). Include ingredients which are low fat and fibre to prevent slower emptying of stomach. Ultra Marathon Cycling Association suggest eating 50g of carbohydrates each hour before the event e.g. banana plus a large bagel with jam is 100g, and drinking 500ml two hours before the start of the event. If you can eat close to the event it is suggested 0.5g of carbohydrates per lb body weight the hour before exercise, so for someone who is 10.5 stone the equivalent could be a bowl of cereal plus a banana. If you have found in training you are better without food just before exercise try eating 3 hours before something like a bagel with peanut butter, piece of fruit and a yogurt.

During the event the golden rule when it comes to refuelling is eat before you’re hungry and drink before you’re thirsty.

Hydration

This is crucial to get the most out of exercise and also recovery. It’s also a personal amount which changes each time you exercise. Here is one way to measure how much you should be drinking: Weigh yourself in your exercise clothes just before you exercise, and again when completed the exercise. Every 1lb lost is equivalent to 2 cups (16oz) of fluid. Add the amount of fluid drank during exercise, then divide the total amount by hours exercised. An example:

if you lose 3lb (6 cups fluid) and drink 2 cups during the 2 hours exercise the sweat rate is 8 cups (6+2) for 2 hours, so need to refuel with 1 cup every 15 minutes during exercise as an approximate for your individual sweat rate.

Excessive sweating without replacing electrolytes is dangerous. As an approximation when weight loss is 0-2% of body weight following an event thirst is common and estimated performance loss is 1.8% but this increases to a performance loss of 7% when weight loss is 2-3%. By the time weight loss reaches 3-6% cramps are common and at greater than 6% body weight loss severe cramps, heat exhaustion are a very real threat. It is crucial to make sure during training you measure your sweat rate to ensure you compensate for the amount of fluid you are losing and thereby how much you should be refuelling during exercise.

Consider also the minerals you are losing in sweat. Sweat has 1,000mg sodium/quart, and sports drinks have 440mg sodium/quart so there are occasions when you will need more salt than in sports drinks.The low sodium can also impede you combined with too much water making you feel bloated so don’t consume large amounts too quickly until sodium levels are corrected.

Sodium and potassium are the main electrolytes within cells, but potassium is not lost as  much as sodium in sweat. To compensate for sodium loss add a pinch of table salt per hour of exercise, or include some drinks with a higher salt content e.g. V-8 tomato juice.

Avoiding the mistakes

According to Ultra Marathon Cycling Association there are 10 mistakes to avoid:

  • Over hydrating leading to stomach cramps and sodium being too diluted
  • Too much simple sugar which will be converted by the body if not used into triglycerides
  • Insufficient post event refuelling. Try to consume 50-75g of carbohydrates plus 15-20g protein within 30-60mins after event
  • Make sure you’re eating the right balance, as an approximate the general diet should be 12-20% protein, 50-60% carbohydrates, 20% fat
  • Forgetting to eat enough
  • Insufficient electrolytes causing weakness, nausea and cramping
  • Too much protein during exercise which puts extra burden on the kidneys
  • Too much solid food
  • Time recovering is as important as time spent training

We all know the importance of hydration and carbohydrates when exercising, and hopefully this article has provided some practical tips to make your training more productive and help you exceed your exercise goals.

What do you eat the week leading up to a big event?

Is your stomach sensitive of robust when it comes to digestion?

How much salt do you usually eat?

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