If you’re thinking of taking part in a long distance race you might be looking to increase the frequency and intensity of your training sessions. A key thing to remember when upping the ante of your training…. don’t forget to also adjust your diet!
We’ve all heard about the rather extreme diets that many professional endurance athletes must adopt – Tour de France cyclists may consume up to 10,000 calories per day, for example. We’re not suggesting that you go to such measures to optimise your performance – where would be the fun in that? However, we can all adopt a few dietary tips to improve our performance. If you’re looking to run your first endurance race or get that PB down, a few small changes to your diet could give you the edge.
#1: Choose complex carbs
Endurance athletes need carbohydrates to keep them going through a long race. Ideally, your calorie intake should consist of 60-70% carbohydrates, 20-30% fat and 10-15% protein. This differs hugely from a sprinter’s diet, where protein would clearly be more significant. Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the muscles, providing a far more efficient source of energy than proteins and fats. Complex carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and rice will ensure that you receive a steady supply of energy, rather than a one-time sugar high.
#2: Low GI before the race, high GI after
Endurance athletes live by the glycemic index of foods. Low GI foods such as cereals, juices and wholemeal or seeded bread are good choices to tuck into prior to the race. However, once you’re a couple of hours into the event, your glycogen levels will have plummeted. If they fall too far, you’ll ‘hit the wall’ – just as Alistair Brownlee did in the 2010 Hyde Park triathlon. Brownlee had looked certain to gain victory, but a miscalculation of his required calorie (and glycogen) intake caused him to literally stagger across the finish line, all the way back in 10th position. If it can happen to the professionals it can certainly happen to you too. Consume high GI foods during long races, as they’ll release energy quickly. Energy gels and isotonic drinks are perhaps the easiest way to increase your glycogen levels mid-race.
#3: Post-race diet
After the race, you’ll need to increase your glycogen levels and help your body start repairing itself. That means you need protein and carbs, although it’s best to wait until at least half an hour after the race before you start eating a heavy meal. Don’t forget to have a high GI snack immediately after you cross the finish line – hopefully after achieving your target time.
#4: Calorie counting
Endurance runners will clearly need to consume more calories than the average RDA. If you’re running around 20-25 miles a week during training, you should aim for 2,500 calories per day. Obviously your required calorie intake will vary depending on your weight and the conditions that you’re running in – record your calorie intake against your performance in training to try and determine the optimum intake for you.
By optimising your diet in the weeks and months leading up to your next long distance race, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance of beating your best time at the next OCR event or marathon you take part in.