You Are What You Eat, Especially If Your Training For An Endurance Event

Posted by Beth Hartman

If your gearing up to participate in an endurance event, like a triathlon, or even an Ironman/Woman race. Conditioning your body is only one part of the training exercise. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a large part. But if you don’t have the right kind of fuel ready to burn to get you from point A to point B, well then, you’re not going to hit your mark, heck, you may not even be in shape to finish.

Now that would be a shame if your body is in decent shape to go the distance, but you run out of gas before you crossed that finish line.

Eating, we might as well say it, “Nutrition” is a key factor in every facet of our lives. Even if you’re not pumping iron or racking up hundreds of miles to get yourself ready to compete in that Triathlon race. Eating right can make the difference between your having a good day at work or falling flat when the clock is only showing 2 pm in the afternoon!

As an endurance machine, we sometimes forget that eating well is more than just chowing down on energy bars and salt pills. We all have grown used to taking them along with us on those long runs or bike rides our energy bars  and gels, are great for providing us with that extra boost when we need it, but what are we eating when we are not pounding the pavements, cycling countless miles or swimming those early mornings or late evening laps to condition our bodies?

Keep in mind the mantra of most endurance trainers is that our own general health is the foundation of endurance fitness, and a high-quality diet is essential for general health. Most triathletes struggle to get leaner despite an appetite inflated by heavy training. A high-quality diet is able to satisfy your appetite cravings in a calorically efficient way.

Some simple things to keep in mind as you shop to fill your fridge with what you need to fuel your body's engine are:

Your plate should be overflowing with fruits, vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates

You avoid the urge to binge on junk foods (including large amounts of processed energy bars and gels) Remember, while these are good when your pushing your body out on the road, and the miles are dropping behind you, remember they also have large amounts of sugar and salt that if you’re not exerting energy so they process out of your body, then your only building up a reserve of these nutrients and when not exercising they can turn into fat!

You limit your intake of alcohol to one or two drinks a day and keep caffeine to a minimum.
Supplying your body with enough fuel to burn on training days is important. After all, if there is not enough fuel in your tank, you could possibly end up breaking down muscle as your body looks for areas to draw on for energy.

Make sure you get started with a quality breakfast, between 800 to 1,000 calories, split up between pre-workout, during and after. Your first meal of the day should make up a third to half of your daily calories, to avoid getting tired in the evening and eating too much or too poorly.

Be aware that during the course of your training that if you:
Think about food all the time
Your workouts aren’t enjoyable and don’t feel like quality sessions
Your hunger spikes in the evening

The above can be indicators that you’re not eating enough to supply your body with the energy it needs to perform the tasks you’re asking from it.

On the “Flip-Side”, You’ve hit the right balance when:
Your performance consistently improves
You recover quickly
You crave sweets infrequently (people who say they’re addicted to sugar are really just hungry)

Be aware of when you eat your meals! Even eating high-quality foods, when eaten at the wrong time can cause a problem with your body’s breaking down of the nutrients to turn that food into fuel.

The rule of thumb is:
An athlete should have some sort of nutrition approximately one to three hours before a training session," says Bob Seebohar, sports dietitian, exercise physiologist, and coach at For short and/or high-intensity sessions under two hours, Seebohar says athletes can benefit from teaching the body to rely on fat stores for energy, which requires consuming fewer carbohydrates. For such sessions, he recommends liquid-based nutrition such as a sports drinks . For sessions more than three hours, Seebohar recommends consuming 200 to 300 grams of carbohydrates one to four hours beforehand.

What you eat after a workout:

When those muscles are primed to accept nutrients, matters just as much. The 30 to 60 minutes immediately following long and high-intensity workouts are especially important. Seebohar recommends consuming 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight and 10 to 25 grams of protein after a workout. Fat, which inhibits carbohydrate absorption, should wait until a few hours later. This is probably the most neglected factor once an athlete gets ready to “Chow-Down” It’s important to eat moderately after you’ve subjected your body to a high-intensity workout or taking part in an endurance event.

Fueling your body well goes beyond eating your fruits and veggies. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, have several important functions in the body, and it’s crucial to give your body the right amount of each.

The percentages of each will vary depending on what type of triathlete you are; an IRONMAN triathlete will need more carbohydrates (the body’s primary energy source) than a short-course triathlete logging fewer training hours. But as a rule of thumb, athletes should aim for getting 45-65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates, 15-20 percent from protein and 20-35 percent from fat.

Remember, one of the key ways to make sure you're eating properly with the correct number of percentages between, fats, carbs, and proteins is to do the majority of your eating at home!

This way you can cook with the freshest foods, that are low in sodium while containing the good fats that are necessary to maintain that engine you call your body.

Eat Well, Exercise Smart, and most of all, embrace your healthy, fitter way of eating. Your body at the end of your event, with thank you for it!


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