The best diet for endurance training is...
Food is a big deal as an athlete because what you eat creates the platform all of your fitness is built on, rebuilds your body after your training's broken it down so you can become fitter, and fuels the engine throughout every effort, session and race. This sh*t matters, which explains why there's so much confusion around exactly what the best diet for endurance training should look like. We're here to tell you not to sweat it, because hitting the sweet spot for an awesome training diet that delivers max gains with max enjoyment and simplicity is very easily achievable.
What the best diet is not
For context, let's first quickly look at what you need to not do with your training diet. No diet should be:
- Painful, as in it's full of denial, food you hate, and/or general misery. Food rocks and is there to be enjoyed
- Difficult, as in you can't find what you want to eat outside of your own kitchen
- A quick fix. If you're looking for 'perfect abs in five minutes', or the 'one miracle diet' for a beach body by next Tuesday, you're in the wrong place. Try any of the tabloids who will gladly feed you this delusional guff daily
Your bike is a finely-honed machine, your diet should be too
If you're a runner, triathlete or cyclist in training, the best diet should:
Deliver all of your macronutrients in bountiful supply. Macronutrients sounds complicated, but just means 'big nutrients', as in the core blocks of your nutritional needs. These are:
Most other pieces on this subject will now waffle on about precisely how many grams of each macronutrient you need per kilo of bodyweight depending on your weight, training hours and load, inside leg measurement and star sign.
We're not going to do that though because seriously, who eats like that? Unless you have a personal chef weighing, measuring and creating your every meal, snack and morsel of food that passes your lips it ain't going to happen.
The good news is it doesn't need to either.
Because if you understand macronutrients (see below), and follow the basics in this guide to build the best diet for endurance training, it will be impossible for you to be deficient in any of them. Boom.
Macronutrients, the basics
Your building blocks, rebuilding you after training. Great sources include:
- All nuts
- All seeds
- Legumes (chick peas, beans, lentils)
- Leafy greens (spinach and kale pack plenty of protein)
- Peas (the humble frozen pea is a protein legend)
- And oats. Yup, the humble oat is full of protein.
- Other sources are meat, fish and dairy
Lentils: awesome protein, load your salads with them for major meal power
Part one of your fuel tank, these are broken down to deliver the fuel you need for your hardest efforts. Great sources include:
- All fruit
- All vegetables
- Quinoa, polenta, oats
- Rice, pasta, bread
Just be aware how heavier starchy carbs (the rice, pasta, and bread) affect you. Some athletes can find these too heavy at times - if your sleep or digestion are off after eating any of these that's a sign they may not totally agree with you. The best rule is to try and balance out your carbs across all of the sources here, rather than simply piling on the pasta.
Part two of your fuel tank, plenty of good fats in your diet help your body metabolise fat more efficiently. Maximising your abilities here is the absolute foundation of all aerobic performance. This is because while your carb stores only last for two hours, your fat stores will literally fuel you for days. That goes for all body types, from stick-thin Tour de France pros to stock strong crossfitters and obstacle course racers.
Eating good fats regularly in your diet teaches your body to see fat, as fuel. Great sources include:
- All nuts
- All seeds
- Coconut oil, olive oil
How to turn all this into the best diet for endurance training?
First, eat a massively varied diet that focuses on whole foods. Whole foods deliver the biggest gains for athletes because they're the most nutrient-dense foods going. The more processed a food is, the fewer nutrients it supplies and the more synthetic gunk gets added to it. So fire up huge salads loaded with nuts, seeds and avocados, wrap up huge vats of beans and rice chock full of veg in tortillas, and cook up curries, chilis and more loaded with legumes.
In all cases, you just need to think: how can I add more whole foods to this plate?
Do this, keep it varied and you won't ever be deficient in any of your macronutrients, particularly if you follow the next step.
Be conscious of your training load, be aware of how you feel
If it's been a heavy training day or week, know that throughout it and for a few days afterwards your body will need more of everything nutritionally. So don't miss meals, get ready for seconds when you feel the need, and prepare to deploy snacks between meals in strong supply. Rice cakes with peanut butter and banana, bags of raw nuts, and as much fruit as you can scoff are ideal.
Training hard? Be conscious you may need to eat hard too
This is also the ideal time to bring in our Pre and Post Workout Shakes. Designed for the biggest possible beneficial hit of the most powerful whole superfoods for athletic performance, these are an elite turbo boost to your athletic diet.
There's no need to get protein-obsessed, just make sure you include good sources in all meals. You'll not go short on your needs doing this.
And recognise how you feel. If your recovery is strong, your sleep easy, your digestion good and your energy levels high then all is well. You're clearly refueling in line with your requirements. But if any of these metrics are consistently out you'll need to do some fine tuning.
As long as your core diet is built on whole foods, the areas to tweak in search of perfection are:
- Timing: avoid late meals and eating right before bed. Dinner by 7pm is a good rule of thumb
- Quantity: lethargy can come from too little or too much food, a feeling of weakness and slow recovery though are sure signs you're not eating enough. Start going back for seconds and snacking between meals!
- Hydration: drink more water, simple as that
Keep it real
Last but not least, eat what the heck you like 10% of the time. Ignore how good or bad it is, if it gives you pleasure and you enjoy it go for your life. When you're training and nailing the whole foods the rest of the time, this 10% window is a very valuable way of building a powerhouse diet you can easily live with and enjoy.
Pizza cravings? 10% of the time, eat what you like
The best diet for endurance training is one packed chock full of great whole foods that tastes delicious and makes you feel awesome. It's as simple as that. No need to fret about alkaline diets, ketogenic diets, paleo diets, plant-based diets or anything else. These are just labels. All you need to do is keep your food real, be aware of how it makes you feel and adjust accordingly. If you remember nothing else, this is the ultimate hack: you can never eat too many fruit and vegetables.
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