Most athletes are likely familiar with the вЂњstandardвЂќ meal plan: Eat three to four times per day; get enough vegetables, complex carbohydrates and protein; and pay attention to caloric intake. This plan is not necessarily suited for the endurance athlete, as the endurance athlete needs energy for hours of activity. When an athlete decides to begin training for endurance activities, he can benefit greatly by adopting a meal plan suited for long-term, reliable energy storage.
Carbohydrates should be the core of an endurance athlete's meal plan, composing up to 70 percent of the total diet. Fatigue, the true enemy of endurance, comes from an exhaustion of your body's glycogen. To stock up on glycogen for long periods of exertion, ingest copious amounts of carbohydrates. Eat nearly 1 percent of your bodyweight in carbohydrates per day. For example, a 150-pound endurance athlete should eat about 1.5 pounds of carbohydrates per day. Carbohydrate sources include rice, pasta, bread and cereal.
While the main energy source for the endurance athlete is carbohydrates, proteins supplement that energy. Protein use in endurance athletes differs from that in bodybuilders; the body turns protein into energy only after burning up large amounts of calories. For the endurance athlete, daily protein intake should equal approximately 0.1 to 0.2 percent of body weight. Extending the previous example, a 150-pound endurance athlete should eat 0.15 to 0.3 pound of protein per day. Good protein sources include protein powder, lean beef and fish.
Adding fats to your meal plan is more complicated than adding carbohydrates and protein. When an endurance athlete is suitably trained, she will reach a point where her body is burning more fat that the nonathlete. This is a natural mechanism of the body that allows the active energy source to switch from carbohydrates to fat. The intensity of your training will determine how much fat you should add to your diet, but do not go overboard on eating fats. An article in Acta Physiol Scandinavica showed that high-fat diets have negative outcomes on endurance activities. Add only a small quantity of fat to your diet. Fats such as vegetable oils, nuts and fatty fish should compose no more than 15 to 30 percent of your total diet.
Vitamins and Minerals
While the previous three groups are sufficient to supply the endurance athlete with adequate energy, they are not enough. To gain all of the benefits of these food groups, eat supplementary, vitamin-rich foods. Foods high in vitamin B supply the endurance athlete with thiamine and niacin, which are integral in metabolizing the energy your body needs. Foods high in calcium are also crucial, as this mineral supports bone strength, which prevents injuries. Vitamin C, vitamin E, sodium, potassium and iron are also must-have nutrients and can be found in a number of common foods, such as fruits and meat.
The primary goal of a pre-workout meal is to restore any glycogen lost prior during the workout. Because this glycogen-restoration window applies only to liver glycogen -- not muscle glycogen -- overeating is possible and may be common due to the myth of вЂњcarb loading.вЂќ A pre-workout meal should be carbohydrate-based with added protein but low in calories. A meal of approximately 300 calories consisting of soba noodles with tofu or a couple of slices of pizza Margherita, for example, would be suitable. Overeating adds calories that will later be stored as fat. For a pre-workout meal, fat is acceptable but not necessary.
Post-workout meals are the most important meals for endurance athletes. Without proper post-workout meals, you will miss out on the benefits from your exercises. The equation of exercise plus a post-workout meal is what allows your body to improve its glycogen storage, which in turn allows you to be active for longer without burning out. A proper post-workout meal is primarily about carbohydrate refilling and secondarily about protein refilling. This is also the time that you should get your fill of vitamins and minerals, as these nutrients can protect you from oxidative damage that can occur after a workout. Rehydrate yourself at this time. An example of a post-workout meal is skinless chicken breast with rice and broccoli plus a glass of lemon water.