As endurance athletes, we often think that we burn so many calories that we can eat whatever we want and as much as we want. In truth, athletes need to be more careful with their diet as food is fuel. Everything w eat should contain properties that will boost performance and speed recovery.
Two contradicting ideas about sugar are:
- Endurance athletes should eat more carbohydrates because glycogen is our primary fuel source.
- Carbohydrates make us fat.
Both statements may be correct. It all depends on the timing of the meal, quantity, and stage or period of training. However, each macronutrient: protein, fat, and carbohydrates, is essential for the performance, growth, and repair of the body. Many athletes have found enormous success following a KETO, Paleo, or Vegan diet. Nevertheless, choosing a diet that eliminates certain food groups requires much research and planning. These diets only work if followed explicitly.
Eating protein does not result in bigger muscles, but muscles cannot grow without it.
Protein is one of the building blocks that make humans who we are. Every cell in the human body must contain protein. During exercise, we deliberately create micro-tears tears in the muscles. The long-chain amino acids help repair the cells and even create new ones, strengthening the muscles. Without enough protein, micro-tears in the muscles may take longer to recover or not repair at all. With more training, instead of getting stronger, muscle mass decreases, and the risk of getting injured increases.
Athletes require 1.2 – 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So a 68kg (150lb) athlete will need between 80 to 136 grams per day. Since the body can only digest and use 30 grams in one meal, we require at least 3 to 5 small protein meals throughout the day.
Vegetarians and vegans need to combine foods to ensure their meals include complete proteins. Note: A complete protein contains the nine essential amino acids that our bodies do not produce.
Eating fat does not make a person fat. Overeating anything does.
Fat is essential for providing long sustained energy, supporting cell growth, allowing the body to absorb certain nutrients, and controlling inflammation, which is crucial after a long hard ride. Once an athlete runs out of glycogen within the first hour, the body turns to fat for energy. Fat is not the enemy but an endurance athlete’s best friend who never lets them down.
Carbs are not better or worse than fat and protein. Each macronutrient serves a unique purpose, and each is essential.
The primary function of carbs is to provide quick, immediate energy, sparring fat, and protein so they can do all of their other vital jobs. However, we can only store so much glycogen at once. Once glycogen stores are full, sugar transforms and is stored as fat. Converting fat into energy is slow and not as efficient as glycogen, therefore reserved for long, slow, sustained efforts. Topping up our small glycogen reserves by eating simple carbs during a long workout helps the athlete access quick, readily available energy. Athletes can train their body to work and become efficient using only fat, but this requires a dedicated commitment to a specific diet and eliminating almost all carbohydrates both on and off the bike.
Without following a specific diet plan, which foods are best?
Variety is the key.
Foods that are whole, unprocessed, and from various sources will help bring about the most significant gains to enhance training and decrease recovery time. Most fast convenience foods lack the necessary nourishment and may deplete the body of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
To help simplify things, ensure that each meal contains a selection of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The exception to this rule is immediately before training, exercising, or racing. Choose food from a wide variety, in every colour, and always fresh if possible. For athletes suffering from stomach issues, lack of energy, slow recovery, irritable bowel, or possible food allergies, take notes and record energy levels one to two hours after eating.