What to eat as an endurance athlete is the subject of much debate. What is the best diet for endurance running and how do you not make a dog’s dinner of it? Here are our seven guiding principles
First and foremost, make sure you include plenty of natural food, that includes within your sports nutrition. Get the energy you need while also maintaining health
When it comes to long-distance running, there are those who believe that pounding the trails makes all the world a buffet. In burning so many calories your body becomes like the roaring furnace of a steam train - just chuck in what you like and it’ll be incinerated in seconds.
But there’s another camp that tries to unpick all the wildly varying nutritional advice, from carbo-loading to gluten-free to the trendy high-fat shtick in search of precision perfection.
If this latter approach means athletes lean towards healthier options and conjuring different nutritious recipes then it’s a good thing. But it can lead to diets becoming more restricted and controlled. The quick gains of being lighter and (initially) faster then become an irresistible combination, yet it is not sustainable. A diet lacking in variety (and often calories) increases the chances of injury, burnout and developing a poor relationship with food.
It's our hope that these seven principles help you nail your endurance diet.
Endurance running diet tip #1: Eat enough
So what’s the answer? The way to find your best diet for endurance running is to get to know your body and your mind; to pinpoint your strengths and weaknesses, and learn how the two can flip.
For example, you may have outstanding discipline with your diet and rarely be tempted by sugary treats or saturated fat-filled burgers.
But add in 60 miles-a-week and that mental strength can become a weakness if you don’t consume enough good stuff to nourish yourself.
Calorie-curbing tendencies can happen to the most elite of athletes. Jessie Thomas, a US Ironman champ, recalls saying among his college team-mates when he was a track athlete at Stanford: “Man, I’m so hungry, I need a nap” - they didn’t eat when they needed it, they slept instead to beat the hunger.
Not a healthy, or sustainable, approach.
Don’t let the sun set on your running ambitions by consuming too little
So lesson number one - you might be eating the most nutritious superfoods in the world, but make sure it’s also enough for your body to repair itself.
Endurance running diet tip #2: Everyone’s different
Tip two is to understand that while not all foodstuffs are the same, neither are we. Taste, both on our palate and what our body demands, varies from person to person.
Take lactose intolerance. More than 90% of those of East Asian descent are lactose intolerant, yet it only applies to about 5% of northern Europeans. Genetic mutations over generations mean our bodies develop in different ways, so just because your training partner is scoffing pasta morning, noon and night, it doesn't mean it’s right for you.
There are, however, a few basic rules we can follow, which moves us on to…
Endurance running diet tip #3: Whole foods
Whole foods are the way to go. Consider how much processing what you are about to eat has gone through - and you don’t need to be a scientist to work this out. Mushed tomatoes in a pallid liquid in a plastic bag have probably been processed rather more than something tomato-shaped and still on the vine.
Whole foods trump processed cr@p any day of the week
Endurance running diet tip #4: Colours matter
Bright colours – as long as we’re not talking pick ‘n mix – are a good thing. Anything with vibrancy from beetroot to carrot to lush spinach equals goodness.
Beige goods. Not so much.
Endurance running diet tip #5: Get immune strong
Tip six is to bulletproof your immune system through diet. From sniffles to constantly recurring colds, endurance athletes can become ill if their immune system becomes suppressed.
Endurance running diet tip #6: Spend it where it matters
Value what you eat. Few of us have unlimited budgets, but if you’re going to invest in anything, make it what you put into your body.
Many modern diseases didn’t exist a century ago before man’s desire to mass produce large quantities of cheap food.
With clever marketing, filling bellies with dodgy foodstuff helped fill the pockets of big business. Cue cheap foods stuffs, disease and an obesity epidemic.
Have a sense check on your spending habits, and if life is skewed towards the materialistic consider reevaluating.
Endurance running diet tip #7: How low can you go?
Low GI values is tip five. These are foods that give a slow release of energy as opposed to spiking your sugar levels.
We know when we’ve had a sugar hit because our energy levels spike and then… we crash, before then succumbing to temptation to repeat.
When this cycle hits, your pancreas is working extra hard to produce insulin to cope with all the glucose in your system, and your mind is harder pressed to make better food choices.
But don’t get too hung up on GI values. A well-rounded diet will suffice, one focused on a great whole food diet, with a mixture of good fats and carbohydrates and proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Low GI ingredients are fundamental to our unique energy blend Better Fuel
The best diet for endurance runners: Conclusion
- Eat enough
- Don’t be fixated on what others eat
- Eat whole foods
- Add vibrant colour
- Low GI
- Immune boost
- Value your food
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