As endurance athletes, we put our bodies under a lot of pressure. We need them to perform well, keep going, get fitter and stronger, and constantly improve so we can get better at our chosen sport. Are you confident that your daily diet is set up to support your body with the energy and nutrients it needs? If you regularly feel exhausted, have wicked food cravings, or struggle to cope with training, it’s time to rethink your diet. Just a few minor adjustments could be all you need.
How Much Energy Do You Need?
If you don’t know how much energy (calories) your body needs, you can’t hope to eat enough to fuel your training, make improvements, and recover properly. At best you’ll be making a lucky guess, and at worst you’ll fall way short of your body’s needs.
Assessing your caloric intake will come down to trial (and hopefully not too much error), and will continually shift as you alter your body composition, weight, and activity levels. But here’s a good way to make that first educated estimate:
Your caloric needs include your BMR (basal metabolic rate), which is the amount of calories your body needs at total rest. This is the energy you need to support breathing, cell regression, brain function, digestion, and simply staying alive. There are a few formulas which will do this for you, but we like the Harris Benedict equation. Find it online or do it manually like this:
Measure your height in centimetres and your weight in kilograms.
Men’s BMR = (height in centimetres x 6.25) + (weight in kilograms x 9.99) - (age x 4.92) + 5.
Women’s BMR = (height in centimetres x 6.25) + (weight in kilograms x 9.99) - (age x 4.92) - 161.
Once you have your BMR number, you will need to calculate your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) which should include every day activity and moving about, plus your training.
If you train 1-3 times a week, multiply your BMR by 1.375. If you train 3-5 times a week, multiple BMR by 1.55, and if you train 6-7 days per week, multiply BMR by 1.725. If you have an intense physical job AND train 5+ times per week for endurance sport, it’s BMR x 1.9.
Can’t be bothered with all that calculating? You can get an online calculator to do it for you. The important thing to note is that the number you end up with is not set in stone. It’s a guideline from which to start tracking your intake and assessing positive and negative changes to your body composition, strength, energy, and fitness.
What About Macronutrients?
Calories are the most important factor for designing a diet that supports your energy output. But within your calorie intake, you should also think about macronutrients. These are carbohydrates, protein, and fats. You need to know that carbs and protein both contain 4kcals per 1g of the macronutrient, and fats contain 9kcals per 1g of the macronutrient. There’s no need to overcomplicate things: start with a solid 40/40/20 split (40% of your calories from carbs, 40% from protein, 20% from fat) and only adjust this if you need to.
Are You Winging It?
One of the most common mistakes endurance athletes make is failing to plan their nutrition. We’re a funny breed: we painstakingly plan training sessions, routes, and split, and we pore over the data of every session. But we’re not so keen to crunch the numbers when it comes to food.
Do yourself a favour and start getting geeky about nutrition.
Know how many calories you need (see above) to lose weight, maintain weight, or gain weight.
Get an understanding of how to create a healthy, balanced meal with protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
Plan your food the previous day, so you know that you will eat regularly and get all the macros and micros your body needs.
Set aside some time once or twice a week to meal prep, batch cook, and make sure you have healthy food around.
Start taking your lunch and snacks to work so you control your diet.
Make the most of the post-training window by using a recovery shake that gives you a carbohydrate blend, protein, and amino acids.
And include data about your food, calories, macros, and energy levels in your training diary. It’s all part of the bigger picture.
Electrolytes, Vitamins, and Minerals
We’ve covered macronutrients, but what about micronutrients? These include vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Micros are crucial for health and energy, especially when your body does endurance sport.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, and berries.
- Challenge yourself to buy a new vegetable every week and learn to cook with it.
- Eat a wide variety of colours.
- Fill at least 1/4 of your plate with vegetables or salad.
- Keep frozen berries and veggies in the freezer.
- Make homemade soups, smoothies, or salad bowls.
And don’t forget electrolytes - the secret weapon of every well-nourished endurance athlete. Supplement with electrolytes, either as a standalone drink or by choosing a premium pre-workout, intra-workout, or recovery drink that includes the precise balance of electrolytes your body needs.
The bottom line is that nutrition goes hand-in-hand with training if you want to be a better, stronger, faster athlete. You can’t ignore nutrition, cut corners, or skimp on the basics and expect your body to play ball. So understand your energy requirements, make meal prep and planning part of your routine, ignore the fads and diet dramas, and develop your own solid set of healthy habits.