What to Eat to Get Strong, Fit, & Fast for Endurance Athletes
By John Heiss, PhD
As Senior Director of Sports and Fitness at Herbalife, I’m often asked about how athletes can improve their performance. It comes down to proper training and good recovery. Sports nutrition is critical to both those components.
While there is no one size fits all plan for sports nutrition, here are some general guidelines to follow at each stage of your workout
2 hours before: For a big race or competition, a large meal is useful to provide energy, top off glycogen stores, prime muscles with amino acids to minimize breakdown during exercise, and help speed recovery. Solid or liquid food can be consumed, and should mimic a normal meal, with a good portion of carbs, along with protein and some fats. Some good options include: oatmeal with milk and nuts, 2-3 eggs, and fruit or juice. Another option would be to consume a large healthy meal shake high in carbs and protein.
Aim for: 70-100g carbohydrates, 25-40g protein, and some fats like nuts or nut butters. This is about 500-600 calories, which seems like a lot, but you’ll burn this in your first hour of exercise. Keep in mind, sleep is often more important than waking up ridiculously early to eat. If the race is under 5 hours, sleep in, and eat a smaller meal 1 hour before.
1 hour before: If you are crunched on time due to an early race start, or don’t want to eat a large meal before a weekend training session, try something lighter with a little less protein and fats. Fruit and yogurt, juice and some toast with almond butter, or a meal replacement shake work well. Since caffeine takes about 15-45 min to kick in, this is a good time for coffee, tea, or a caffeine supplement.
Within 30min (Just before a race): The goal at this point is to make sure you’re not thirsty and to take in a few extra carbs for energy. This is also a good time to consume a pre-workout product to enhance blood flow. A caffeine + nitric oxide (NO) product will be useful to help promote blood flow to healthy muscles and give you mental focus.
Aim for: 20-40g of carbs, 50-150mg of caffeine and 2-3g of arginine which is a nitric oxide precursor, in about 250-300ml
The goal of nutrition during exercise is to help an athlete get the most out of training. For short or low intensity workouts, water is generally enough. As the workouts get longer and more intense, the need for fuel, usually in the form of carbohydrates becomes critical.
1) Consume 30-60g of Carbohydrates per hour. Carbs will give you energy to complete a longer workout, and perform at a higher intensity.
2) We tend to like a little protein during exercise since it helps prevent muscle breakdown and speed recovery. Look for a sports drink anywhere from a 3:1 to a 10:1 carb-to-protein ratio. In general, the lower the intensity or less aerobic the session, the more protein you can tolerate. For a long-course triathlon, a 10:1 ratio of carbs-to-protein works well. For a gym workout or low-intensity endurance session, a 3:1 ratio might be better.
A combination of carbohydrates and protein is the key to recovery. Carbohydrates help protein build muscle, and at the same time help refill the energy “gas tank” called glycogen.
Look for a recovery shake with a mixture of fast and slow proteins and free amino acids, particularly BCAAs, which are the “building blocks of muscle.”
Depending on your size, consume around 20-40g of protein, and shoot for 20-90g of carbs, depending on duration and intensity. After a 10km run you will be fine with 20g of protein and 20g carbs, for a short triathlon, 25g protein and 40g carbs would be a good start.
Herbalife markets food and supplement products, including hydration supplements.
About Dr. John Heiss:
John Heiss Ph.D is the senior director of Sports and Fitness at Herbalife. Under his expertise, the company launched Herbalife24, a new line of high-performance sports nutrition products.
Before joining Herbalife, John was the founder of Prolong Energy, an endurance sports nutritional company. He earned a Ph.D. from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in biological chemistry, where he studied how single proteins function within cells. The findings from his research work have been published in several peer-reviewed journals.