Many serious runners and triathletes are looking for that “edge” that will translate into better race times. While some supplements and sports products have their place in the training regimen; most products will not provide the athlete with the winning formula. Supplement manufacturers are not FDA regulated and tend to over market and over state the voracity of their product and its benefits. Supplements are “supplements” intended to supplement a healthy activity based diet, not “be a diet.” Most top racers succeed because of two main ingredients: quality training fueled by good nutrition. So what is “good nutrition” for this type of training you may ask?
It’s all in the percentages
The three macronutrients that provide calories in the diet are: carbohydrates, fat and protein. The average unfit American eats a diet containing approximately 49% carbohydrate, 34% fat and 12-15% protein. This percentage profile is not advised for endurance athletes and will definitely hinder performance. The best percentage profile for runners/triathletes to promote optimum performance consists of approximately 55-65% carbohydrate, 12-15% protein and 20-30% fat.
Carbohydrates: the main fuel for runners/triathletes
Carbohydrate-rich foods are the best fuel source for the endurance athlete. Maintaining a high carbohydrate diet during training is crucial for storing, preserving and replacing muscle glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate and the body’s primary energy source during exercise. The body can store approximately 2000 calories in the form of glycogen. If you deplete your stores then be prepared to “hit the wall.” If stores run low (because of failure to eat a high enough carbohydrate diet to replenish stores during heavy weeks of training) the athlete will be unable to perform up to par, failing to attain the peak fitness level required for the athlete’s personal best during competition. This is termed “training muscle glycogen depletion.” Emphasis should be placed on eating a diet high in complex carbs, “good carbs” such as whole wheat breads and cereals, beans, whole wheat pasta and starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes. Simple sugars such as in fruits, fruit juices, sugar and honey provide “quick energy” and are perfect for replenishing glycogen stores immediately after exercise. (Sugary drinks such as soda or fruit juice should NOT be consumed during exercise as they are far too concentrated and could result in GI problems. Stick with the sports drinks instead.)
Protein: for repairing damaged muscle
Protein is necessary for building and repairing damaged muscle as well as for synthesizing enzymes and other tissues. In some instances, such as in prolonged endurance events, the body uses a small amount of protein for energy to fuel the activity. Does this mean that you should load up on protein in your diet? No, for while protein is an important nutrient, most Americans eat far more than they need. In fact, the main dietary problem among athletes is not a deficit of protein but instead, failing to consume enough carbohydrate to support their active lifestyle. That said, healthy sources of protein include soy products, beans/carb combinations, fish, non-fat dairy products, egg whites and lean meats.
Fat: the other fuel source during exercise
During prolonged endurance events such as a marathon, the body resorts to using some of its fat stores to help fuel the exercise. Regular endurance training helps athletes improve their ability to burn fat as fuel. This in turn benefits performance as muscle glycogen is “spared,” allowing preservation of the limited supply of muscle glycogen. Great endurance athletes are highly adept at using stored fat as an energy source along with carbohydrate. Because we have more than enough fat stored in our bodies (some more than others!), it is not necessary to aim for getting in extra fat in the diet. Try to choose healthier fats such as olive and canola oil, nuts and avocados and remember to keep your intake to no more than 30%. The most successful runners and triathletes know the secret to competing at their best: fuel quality training with basic good nutrition. This means maintaining a high carbohydrate diet of whole foods, rich in fruits and vegetables and combined with lean protein sources and healthy fats. Fitness Together Mission Hills offers personal training with qualified professionals by regular appointment in private suites. Exercise and nutritional programs are custom designed to fit your needs and abilities. Call 619-794-0014 for more information or to schedule a free fitness diagnostic and private training session. See what others are saying about us on Yelp and San Diego City Search.