5 Race Endurance Nutrition Strategies

For those just starting out with either cycling or running in the triathlon, it may seem intimidating seeing their training companions with what looks like a utility belt filled with various dietary items. Well, fret no more.

This article offers advice on what to eat for maximum energy and top performance during extended physical activity and competitive events.

1. Carbohydrates

In basic terms, carbohydrates are the sugars and starches that act as energy sources for our body, similar to how gasoline powers a race car. Every gram of carbohydrate provides approximately 4 calories of energy.

Comparable to how a race car places its fuel in a container, the human body retains carbohydrates as glycogen in both the liver and muscles. The body uses the stored glycogen to keep blood sugar regulated and allow the muscles to perform at their best.

Athletes who make sure their meals have 45 to 65 per cent carbohydrates and give themselves enough energy can have 2 grams of glycogen stored in each pound of muscle and an added 400 to 500 calorie capacity in their liver.

The glycogen provides enough power to jog at a fair pace for approximately 2 hours. It is necessary to consume extra carbohydrates during extensive runs to evade depletion which can cause lightheadedness (known as “bonking”) and extreme muscle exhaustion (known as “the wall”).

If you are preparing for a race longer than three hours, it is important to increase your carbohydrate reserves before race day, known as “loading”. To do this, have 4-5 grams of low-fibre, easily-digested carbs per pound of your body weight every day for the last 72 hours before the race.

It may be advantageous for athletes competing in shorter events to use a one-day or two-day carb-loading protocol, particularly if they are continuing to do their regular training up to the event, as opposed to reducing their activity leading up to the competition.

Examples of carbohydrates that can be taken in quickly include pretzels, bagels with no topping, bananas, plain noodles, plain white rice, taters, cereal produced from rice, sports drinks, and power bars.

Eat a light meal of about 100-150 grams of carbohydrates that are easy to digest and have low fibre content two to three hours before the race starts. Make sure to give your body an hour to break down every 200 to 300 calories you eat.

Suggested food to eat before a race that should be eaten 2-3 hours ahead of time is a plain bagel with some peanut butter and honey, combined with 20-24 ounces of sports drinks.

For any training session or race lasting longer than 45-90 minutes, aim to consume around ¼ – 1/3 of your body weight in grams per hour. A 180-lb jogger should target consuming approximately 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour of running or racing.

For the best results in increasing carbohydrate intake in the muscles and prolonging stamina, opt for items which feature a variety of carbohydrates in their components.

Sources of carbohydrates that are frequently employed in sporting activities and sustenance encompass maltodextrin, glucose or dextrose, sucrose, and fructose. Typical items used on race day include sports beverages, energy jellies, power bars, and energy bites.

Aim for around 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates in liquid form as soon as you have finished a tough exercise or competition, to ensure proper hydration and to refill your body’s carbohydrate levels.

2. Protein

From a scientific point of view, proteins are intricate, sizable molecules that constitute 20% of our physical form, such as muscles, bones, cartilage, and skin, as well as other organs and bodily fluids.

Through the digestive process, protein is separated into a hundred or more particular chemical constituents called amino acids that accumulate inside a person’s liver and are employed to assemble muscle, skin, hair, nails, eyes, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, and nerve compounds.

Studies have found that the addition of a small amount of protein when engaging in an activity that requires a long period may improve performance. This is because it not only preserves glycogen in the muscles but also helps absorb fluids.

Proteins can assist in suppressing hunger during extended periods of activity. Take caution not to have too much protein as too much of it can cause your stomach to take longer to empty and can lead to overflowing nutrients in the intestinal tract, resulting in abdominal pain and weariness in the muscles.

It is believed that people who are training to become endurance athletes should consume anywhere between 0.5 and 0.75 grams of protein for each ounce of their body weight each day. Athletes who are restricted in their overall energy intake should strive to reach the maximum of the suggested amount. A 180-pound man with a 10% body fat percentage has an estimated 160 lbs of lean body mass, and he should consume between 80 to 120 grams of protein daily.

Before the race begins, make sure to eat 10-20 grams of protein two to three hours before the starting time to maintain steady blood sugar levels. Pre-race, people tend to eat protein-rich food such as peanut butter, non-fat milk or yoghurt, eggs, or energy bars.

If you are running in a competition or practising that takes more than four hours, make sure you consume up to five grams of protein per hour. Popular places to get nutrients are sports drinks, energy snacks, and whole food choices like dried turkey and peanut butter sandwiches.

Consuming 10 to 20 grams of protein shortly after concluding a race should be enough to help repair any muscle damage and boost immunity. Sources of nutrition that are frequently used include dairy products, meal replacement shakes, and highly specialized sports beverages that are designed to support recovery.

3. Electrolytes

The substitution of electrolytes can be extremely helpful in events that take place over one hour, particularly when competing or preparing in warm and damp environments. The four main electrolytes are Na (frequently connected to Cl), K, Mg, and Ca.

All cells, including those providing muscular activity, rely on the presence of electrolytes which are vital components of biological processes. Without these substances, metabolism cannot take place correctly.

The indications associated with an electrolyte unevenness appear to be similar to those of becoming dehydrated: queasiness, retching, muscle shortcoming, muscle spasms, muscle jerking, extreme weariness, strenuous inhaling, feeling “pins and needles,” and disorientation.

When we sweat too much, our bodies not only shed water but also electrolytes, which are minerals. This help keep muscles functioning correctly and must be replenished during exercise.

Sodium is the primary electrolyte lost through sweat. The amount of sodium athletes require for each litre of sweat lost can range from 200 to 1,500mg, depending on the temperature and amount of perspiration.

Sodium helps to absorb water from the intestine. Without it, any drunk water will not be retained in the body and will be excreted without reaching the muscles. Sweat loses other electrolytes, such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are vital.

The most straightforward method of replenishing sodium and other electrolytes is to ingest electrolyte tablets when profuse sweating occurs. In actuality, many sports beverages supplied for nutritional purposes during a race may already contain the necessary ingredients, though in smaller quantities.

Ahead of the competition, athletes who are prone to muscular cramps and exhaustion, particularly those in hot conditions, may be advantaged by a rise in their salt consumption a few days ahead of the event. Many of the fuel-loading options, like pretzels, sports beverages, bread, and breakfast cereals, fit this need.

On the day of the race, opting for salty carbs like a salty bagel and drinking a sports drink instead of just water may be beneficial. It is not advised for athletes taking blood pressure medications to consume a large amount of salt.

Try to aim for 200-500 milligrams of sodium in a normal cycling water bottle (20-24 ounces) as well as smaller parts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Be mindful of how much sodium you take in, as it can cause you to get bloated and feel nauseous. Consider the quantity of sodium that comes from sports drinks (eight-ounce serving has 100-200 mg), vitality gels (pack holds 25-200 mg), nibble pieces (three parts have 20-210 mg), salt bundles (~200 mg for each packet), and electrolyte containers (~100-200 mg for each container) when calculating your total amount.

Replacing lost electrolytes, post-run, by quenching your thirst with a sports drink rather than just water, will ensure your muscles remain optimally hydrated.

4. Hydration

Drinking plenty of fluids is the key component of a nutritional strategy. Adequate fluid intake is critical when you’re physically active.

Sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism. Athletes sweat a lot, causing them to lose a lot of fluids and minerals. Therefore, it is vitally important to replenish what has been lost.

It is advisable to drink liquids in small amounts every 10-20 minutes. Water is the most basic type of fluid substitute and is ideal for shorter, more intense competitions.

But how much to drink?

That very much depends on the athlete and conditions. The amount of liquid needed may vary from 300 millilitres to as many as two to three litres every hour.

Generally, taller and heavier athletes perspire more than those who are shorter and lighter in weight. High temperatures and strenuous exercise lead to a larger amount of perspiration, thus resulting in greater water loss.

A useful measure that athletes can utilize is consuming between 750 and 1,000 ml of liquids each hour. The most effective way to decide how much water to drink during a race is to calculate each person’s sweating rate and use that as a guide.

Individual sweat rate

To accurately figure out each person’s sweat rate, measure their body weight before and following their workout (remove any wet clothes or pat down with a towel first). A 1-kilo loss in weight is typically equivalent to approximately 950 grams, which is equivalent to 95%.

Figure out the amount of water you have lost during the hour and tally any fluids you drank during the session. Calculate the total amount of fluids you will require for a race by dividing the number by the duration of the event.

The risk and effects of dehydration

Though dehydration doesn’t pose as much of an issue in shorter competitions (such as a 10K), it can be an extremely worrying indicator for individuals taking part in ultra-endurance events. In events like Ironman, it is rare for problems to simply disappear. Instead of resolving problems, they accumulate to the point where the athlete no longer can go on.

Not having enough fluid in the body stops it from cooling down properly and this affects how athletes can perform. In hot conditions, it can even be life-threatening. The most common signs of dehydration are:

  • Fatigue or loss of power/energy
  • Brain fog/difficulty concentrating
  • Cramping
  • Nausea

It is essential to plan one’s race nutrition and hydration strategy prior before the event, as it is exceedingly difficult to recuperate lost fluids during physical activity. The most detrimental thing is that when we start to feel thirsty, we have already lost fluids from our bodies. The initial indications of dehydration become visible when the body has lost ~2% of its water.

5. Energy

It is similar to our bodies requiring energy to function, just as cars require fuel to run. The faster you go, the more fuel you’ll burn. In general, the body needs carbohydrates for energy during strenuous exercise as they can be converted into energy faster.

Glycogen, which is the stored form of carbohydrates, is kept in the body as a reserve and can fuel around two hours of strenuous physical activity. An athlete who is adapted to higher-fat diets and exercises with low intensity will be able to prolong their reserve of energy.

People competing in endurance events that last two hours or more should make sure they consume extra carbohydrates as easy-to-digest sugars through sports drinks, bars, and gels. Doing so keeps the blood sugar and energy levels up and allows them to sustain their efforts for a greater duration.

It isn’t possible to substitute every calorie expended during an event. Since the body needs the blood for exercising, the digestive system is unable to process all of the consumed food.

The more physically demanding something is, the less the body can handle, which is why nutrition tactics for a variety of lengths of endurance races need to be thought out carefully.

Energy from sports drinks

Sports drinks are generally composed of water, salt, and carbohydrates. The presence of sodium and carbs in the beverage supplies a rapidly consumable source of energy and helps with the rehydration of the body, in addition to aiding the absorption of fluid. The taste of the beverage often encourages someone to drink more, decreasing the chance of becoming dehydrated.

The number of carbohydrates and salt will determine what the drink is meant to be used for.

The most effective way to stay hydrated during strenuous workouts and competitions is to drink isotonic beverages. The amount of carbohydrates in these beverages is between 6-8%, making it the ideal amount for both providing energy and hydration and avoiding causing stress on the stomach.

Typically, the greater the number of carbohydrates present, the more water is extracted from muscle cells and directed to the stomach to facilitate digestion. If there occurs during a contest, a sportsperson can experience premature exhaustion and suffer from digestive system issues.

It is not beneficial to use alternative sports drinks for extended endurance events.

Electrolytes in hypotonic beverages are typically taken in to recuperate lost fluids and to direct water into muscles that have become dried out. Beverages that are hyperosmolar are created to restore glycogen stores and should be used to act as a recovery aid.

If you would rather drink Cola or fruit juice as a way to stay hydrated, make sure to add some water to it. The level of carbohydrates in Cola and fruit juice is considerably high (approx. 12%) and if consumed while contending in a competition or engaging in strenuous physical activity, it can cause stomach upset.

Endurance race nutrition strategies

No matter what type of nutrition plan you set up for endurance race competition, make sure to practice it during your workouts. Determine what’s your sweat rate. See what nutrition plan gives you the best results when you increase the intensity of your workout.


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