The application of smart sports nutrition for endurance athletes is a bit like Albert Einstein's concept of a unified filed theory in the study of physics...
(That might be the worst first sentence of any blog post ever written about sports nutrition.)
But it's true, and I'll explain.
Then I'll give you practical strategies to tweak your nutrition for optimal performance throughout your training and competion seasons.
Nutrient Timing and Periodization ... Same Principles But Different Scope
You see, after pioneering relativity, Einstein spent the last decades of his life trying to describe the behavior of matter, from infinitesimal sub-atomic particles to massive planetary objects, with a single set of field equations.
Because he believe that the same physical laws that govern how electrons move about the nuclei of atoms are the same laws that govern how planetary objects move in outer space.
And that's kinda like sports nutrition for endurance athletes...
How, you ask?
Because the principles that apply to timing nutrition around your daily training are the same principles that apply for planning your periodized nutrition around your seasonal training.
If you're still not following, don't sweat it... I'll make this simpler.
Let's start at the highest level -- seasonal nutrition -- and then dive down to daily nutrition, for a complete look into what constitutes ideal performance nutrition (at least in terms of macros) throughout your training and competition seasons.
First -- what is periodization?
Periodization, as it relates to nutrition, is the concept of breaking down your nutritional requirements into specific blocks of time.
So, if we view your annual calendar as being comprised of the pre-season, base, build, competition and off-season phases, then these are the specific blocks to which we'll tailor a specific nutritional strategy.
This is akin to Einstein's study of planetary objects in our physics metaphor.
So, looking at nutrition from the macronutrient perspective (protein, carbs and fats), the below table presents ranges recommended by Bob Seebohar, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics and former Director of Sports Nutrition for the University of Florida.
Bob recommends these ranges specifically for endurance athletes:
Although this simple framework only differentiates between "pre-season" and "competition," the ranges are intended to allow for flexibility as you progress through training phases.
As the intensity and volume of exercise increases, so too will your macro requirements.
Remember that concept.
(By the way, in case the nomenclature isn't clear, the above ranges reflect how many grams of a given macro you need to consumer per day, per kilogram of bodyweight. So, if you're a 150 lb. male [68 kg.], you would need to consume between 85 and 170 grams of protein per day during Pre-Season.)
Now that you have a basic framework for seasonal nutritional needs, now we can get into the nitty gritty with day-to-day and even intra-day (within a single day) recommendations.
As your macro requirements will increase in direct relation to the volume and intensity of your seasonal work, so it follows with week-to-week and day-to-day cycles.
Generally, your carbohydrate and dietary fat intake will track up to fuel training volume and intensity increases, and protein will also rise proportionally in order to provide for sufficient recovery from those increases.
The following guide should be used when planning your daily nutrition:
|Rest Days||3-4 g/kg||1.0-1.2 g/kg||0.8-1.0 g/kg|
|Train <1 Hour||4-5 g/kg||1.2-1.4 g/kg||0.8-1.0 g/kg|
|Train 1-2 Hours||5-6 g/kg||1.4-1.6 g/kg||1.0-1.1 g/kg|
|Train 2-4 Hours||6-10 g/kg||1.7-2.0 g/kg||1.1-1.3 g/kg|
|Train 4+ Hours||6-12 g/kg||2.0-2.5 g/kg||1.1-1.5 g/kg|
Now, a word about intra-day or "peri-workout" nutrition (that is, nutrient timing around your training session).
A growing body of research demonstrates an unequivocal benefit to timing nutrients around training (before, during and after your workout), both for improving workout performance and improving the speed and degree of subsequent recovery.
Of the macros, endurance athletes tend to overstate the importance of carbohydrates for this purpose, thinking that more carbs equates to greater stores of glycogen, and therefore greater muscular endurance.
But here's the thing...
Muscle glycogen stores top out at about 350-500 grams, which fuels around 90 minutes of endurance exercise, after which other sources of dietary energy will be used.
And yes, you should absolutely ensure that your glycogen stores are maximal.
But that 350-500 gram ceiling is easily achieved through the above macro guidelines, without needing to gorge on carbohydrates (which will challenge your ability to stay lean and strong), particularly around workouts.
I'm sure you're familiar with what happens when you consume too many grams of carbohydrates prior to training...
Bloating, discomfort, even bathroom issues.
This is because digestion is compromised by virtue of insufficient blood supply (since blood is being shuttled elsewhere).
A BETTER approach, perhaps the ideal approach, is to time your protein intake properly around your workout.
Because protein delivers amino acids to working muscles to delay muscular fatigue (and reduce your perception of fatigue), and supply up to 15% of the total energy required to complete your session.
And, with relatively small "bursts" of protein before and after your workout, you can optimize performance and recovery with little or no digestive upset.
Use this as a basic framework:
|1 Hour Pre-Training||15g pre-digested|
|During Training (Optional)||15g pre-digested|
|Immediatel Post-Training||20-25g blend of fast- and slow-digesting|
Note that before (and, optionally, during) your workout, you want to select a "pre-digested" protein, such as a casein or whey hydrolysate.
This is so that your body doesn't have to digest the protein in order to utilize its amino acid building blocks...
...hence no stomach discomfort.
AFTER the workout, a mountain of research shows that the best protein for maximizing recovery (and thus deriving all the benefit from your grueling training) is a blend of fast- and slow-digesting proteins, such as a high-quality whey and casein blend.
NOTE: For the EXACT protein blend scientifically shown to maximize training recovery, check out SYNERGY-XP here, which was designed specifically to optimize performance and recovery.
Sports nutrition doesn't have to be complicated, but it is EXTREMELY important for optimizing performance and recovery.
Start with the above guidelines, and tweak as necessary until you find YOUR nutritional sweet spot.