The best diet for endurance athletes is not as complicated as most experts like to make out
When it comes to the best diet for endurance athletes there's a ton of information available, but little variety. Most can be boiled down into:
- Eat X grams of carbs per kilo of bodyweight during exercise
- Eat Y grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight for recovery afterwards
- Take electrolytes during training/racing (add unnecessarily complicated electrolyte formula in here)
Next, a raft of products will be recommended and (amazingly), they're normally produced by the experts writing the piece, or by the employers/sponsors of said experts. What a coincidence.
Follow this apparent gold standard in search of nutritional nirvana however and the wheels fast start falling off as, chances are, you'll rapidly begin experiencing:
- Stomach trouble
- Decreased performance
- Increased injury
- Slower recovery
- A need to force products down - enjoyment left the party a long time ago
We were never meant to chow down such highly-processed and sugary junk in such volumes.
Downing a sea of sickly gel, goo, chews, bars, and powders as recommended by our aforementioned experts would be a challenge while chilling on the sofa. Getting it down while putting yourself through the wringer on the bike, run or swim?
Can't. Take. Another. Gel...
This is not how the human body is meant to behave or designed to succeed. It's a finely-honed machine that can be trusted to tell us what it needs, we just need to learn how to tune into it.
Truth is, the best diet for endurance athletes is a simple one
For example, the idea spouted heavily by some nutritionists that we should 'eat before we are hungry' and 'drink before we are thirsty' is cobblers. Millions of years of evolution have equipped us with supremely sensitive abilities to detect these needs and we're very good at it. If they didn't work we'd be extinct.
(For more on drinking to thirst in endurance The Guardian wrote a sublime piece on the subject - hallelujah for common sense)
All we actually need to do for peak performance is listen to the signals our body is sending out and here's how:
Perfect your best diet for endurance
- Ignore nutritional plans or products if you feel they're not working for you, regardless of who recommended them or uses them - we are all an experiment of one and what works for one person won't always work for another
- Similarly, ditch any nutrition products that make you feel ill. Endurance sports and going long are about the challenge, the adventure and fun. Spending hours trying not to vomit is not fun.
- Start listening to your body. Legendary ultrarunners like Kilian Jornet routinely take on all-day runs and beyond on nothing but water simply to understand their bodies better. If sports nutrition products have become a crutch for you, try ditching them. Maybe just an hour to start with, then two, and so on. It's liberating
- Instead, eat real food and a healthy varied diet. We're talking big on the fresh stuff, low on the processed stuff. If in doubt this means less stuff in packets, more stuff that actually needs cooking/chopping/peeling.
- Swap all soft drinks and fruit juice for water
Nailing the best diet for endurance athletes just isn't the rocket other science sports nutrition companies and their white-coated boffins would have you believe. In any week you'll spend more time eating than training - eating naturally and well is where it all begins.
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