The Optimal Diet for Endurance Sport Athletes

Diet is a topic that has become almost as inflammatory as politics or religion. Much like with the other two, there is no one universal answer that would work at all times and for all people. Nevertheless, once a specific goal is set, a set of specific criteria emerges out of that goal allowing for the development of general guidelines for the achievement of that goal. Maximising endurance in an athletic discipline is one such goal, and while each body has its individual responses, tolerances and needs, there is a general guide to eating when preparing to achieve peak endurance performance. This is key, because the standard definition of a healthy diet may not apply here as it was developed for the average joe with a 9-5 job, not a marathon runner.

Optimal Diet
Optimal Diet

Low Carb is Bad for Endurance

The last decade has seen a near-religious demonisation of carbohydrates. This may be a cultural overcorrection for a society surrounded by the high-carb fast food industry. And it is true, that the amount of carbohydrates in the standard American diet is truly dangerous, especially if you factor in the standard American lifestyle. But for endurance athletes carbohydrates are essential sources of energy. Endurance athletes participate in prolonged aerobic activities that  make the body burn glycogen. Glycogen is essentially carbohydrates packed for storage. This means that the endurance athlete’s energy levels depend on glycogen supply, which in turn depends on the intake of carbohydrates. For professionals, this translates to half of their diet being carbohydrates. However, this doesn’t mean that you should be chowing down on bread, potatoes and pasta. Carbohydrates can also come in more easily digestible forms such as fruit, wholegrains, vegetables and rice.

Endurance Needs Calories

Caloric intake is always tricky, and calculating it can be painstaking. General knowledge advises to lower caloric intake if you want to be leaner, and this is true. Endurance athletes often have to carry their body weight for a long distance, so the lower the weight the better the endurance. But fasting isn’t the way to go either. You will need calories to maintain the muscle mass, which can diminish if the caloric intake doesn’t match the intensity of training or the overall body mass of the athlete. 25 calories per 1 lbs of body weight is a good strategy to keep when counting calories.

Plants Are Your Friends

This is to say that for endurance purposes a plant-based diet is more advantageous than an animal based diet. First, the protein requirements for endurance athletes isn’t as high as you might think. Muscle mass isn’t the central goal here, so a high-protein diet isn’t necessary. Second, endurance exercise puts enormous strain on your cardiovascular system. Animal fats have been linked to cardiovascular problems, such as build-up in the arteries. Reduce the risk of heart problem by sticking to vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grain products. When properly balanced, they will fill the need for protein while reducing the strain on your organism.

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