Food is fuel. Plain. Simple. Our bodies are high end, irreplaceable, sexy machines – and they need wholesome real food to perform at their absolute greatest. As you plan out your meals during your race week (any week for that matter!) make sure to include a variety of foods – leafy green veggies, bright orange and red vegetables, fruits, dairy, grains, red meat, white meat, salmon, beans, rice, pancakes, and even chocolate! Eat all the food. During the few days leading up to your race, you should eat every few hours. Make sure your fuel tank is full – this isn’t a time to be going to bed hungry. You also want to avoid new foods. You don’t want to find out the night before a race that a certain food gives you monstrous gas and tummy aches.
Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrient in an endurance athlete’s diet. I repeat. Carbs are YES the most important macronutrient! Our muscles are fueled by glucose – especially those intense, anaerobic sprint efforts. Up and over a rocky ledge on the mountain bike – fueled by glucose. Sprint efforts during a 5K – fueled by glucose. Hell any effort over 80% heart rate max is primary fueled by glucose and during a race you are painfully living here. Glucose is a form of sugar found where? In carbohydrates. Our brains need glucose to function as well. Without glucose, we fatigue quickly and lose concentration. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, but this reserve tank is tapped fairly fast once activity begins.
During a normal week when you are training 1-3 hours daily you should be consuming about 6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body mass. That means a 130 pound (59kg) athlete should be eating 354-590 grams of carbs a day. During race week you will up that consumption to 8-12 grams per kilogram body mass per day which would be 472-708 grams of carbs for the 130 pound athlete. Carbohydrates are not just bread, pasta, and pastries. Aim for whole foods that are unprocessed—rice, beans, fruit, veggies, quinoa, and whole grains—and make sure about 60% of your food is from these sources.
Fat is definitely a friend of endurance athletes. Fat is your fuel when performing mostly aerobic bouts of exercise in that 60-80% HRM range. Fat will keep you fuller longer throughout the day, it will keep you going longer while training. During the week aim for about 30% of your calories from fat. Unfortunately I don’t mean from French fries, cookies, or that strawberry milkshake. Well…maybe the strawberry milkshake. Grab your fat from good omega-3 sources like nuts, legumes, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, eggs, and fish. Go meatless once a week with black bean and avocado quesadillas. Try one serving of fish each week - perhaps pecan crusted salmon.
And protein. Ahh. The building blocks of muscle. Proteins are comprised of amino acids which help aid in muscle repair and recovery after exercise. This means that during your actual bout of training or racing you don’t need protein for energy. You do need protein immediately after the effort to begin the recovery process. Aim for 20g of protein within 45 minutes of ceasing activity. Combine that with about 40-60g of carbohydrate for a potent recovery cocktail to restore depleted glycogen levels. On a daily basis endurance athletes need 1.2 – 2.0 grams per kilogram of body mass. The daily needs for a 130 pound (59kg) athlete would be 71-118 grams—about 10-15% of total consumption. Poultry, fish, beef, and pork are the obvious contributors of protein. Don’t forget about eggs, yogurt, milk, cheese, nuts, hummus, and seeds! I love sprinkling walnuts and pumpkin seeds in my morning oatmeal, sunflower seeds on my salads, and yogurt for a mid-morning mini-meal.
Seem like a lot of calorie counting, 6th grade math, and planning headaches? It’s not. It is very simple. During race week eat wholesome, nutritious, unprocessed foods. Make 60% of food consumed fruits, veggies, and whole grains. 30% of your food should be good fats and 15% protein. Have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between. Keep your tank full during race week! Eat bright colors, go meatless once a week, enjoy seafood once a week. Don’t eat unfamiliar foods if you can help it—I’ve had eggplant surprise me once or twice before..guess I didn’t learn the first time. Enjoy food. Don’t restrict certain foods—restructure the amount you consume. Now..that strawberry milk shake :)