Here is an article I wrote during my Masters studies that was printed in a cycling magazine:
Achieving a balance between endurance training and your lifestyle; can Nutrition help?
The ideal circumstances for most endurance athletes would be to train as much as possible and spend their remaining hours of the day resting and recovering. The reality of balancing a job, social life and training means that many people aren’t able to do this and can risk overtraining, overworking or overplaying. All of this can be dangerous to the body, depleting the immune system, reducing cellular nutrient levels and putting additional stress on internal organs. This can affect training and racing performance as well as causing long term damage.
What is endurance training?
Endurance is described as the ability or power to bear prolonged exertion, pain, or hardship. Not for the faint hearted it requires staying power and stamina for repeated long distance training and racing.
Why is nutrition important?
Daily dietary patterns play a pivotal role in athletic performance providing the platform from which an athlete is ready to compete. To achieve and maintain the correct physique for the sport being undertaken as well as to optimise recovery between training nutrition must be considered a priority.
Nutrition goals for training
• Meet the energy requirements needed to support a training program
• Serve as a means to achieve optimal physique, BMI, fat levels, muscle mass consistent with good health.
• Enhance adaption and recovery between training sessions.
• Refuel and rehydrate before, during and after sessions.
• Maintain health and function of all bodily systems at a cellular level.
Nutrition goals for competition
• Achieve optimal weight division if required.
• Load up on nutrients required to ensure optimal energy and performance.
• Achieve hydration before, during and after the event without causing gastric upset.
• Maintain glucose levels during events lasting more than 1 hour without causing gastric upset.
• Provide sustenance after an event to ensure recovery, particularly in multi-day events.
Effects of inadequate nutrition on the Immune System
Perhaps not the most obvious affect of prolonged exercise is the depletion of the immune system. Following exercise there is a window of opportunity for bacteria and virus to take a foothold and cause infection. Further studies are being undertaken on the details of this however there is substantial evidence that carbohydrate drinks decrease the level of infection and there is no doubt that the increased amount of exercise increases nutrient requirements. A combination of different coloured vegetables and a quality antioxidant supplement will increase the immune response, ensuring infection doesn’t occur and that free radicals caused by exercise are excreted from the body.
Overall Effects of inadequate Nutrition
The better known effects are those of impaired ability short and long term due to insufficient intake of macronutrients and micronutrients. It is essential for athletes to ensure they consume adequate carbohydrate, protein and fat as well as vitamins and minerals. These should be consumed in the correct amounts and at the right time.
Before a race or training session hydration is vital. This should be done with fluids that have some electrolytes (minerals) and carbohydrate that will be broken down into glycogen and used for energy so that muscle stores are not used. As well as a concentrated supplement consume a meal 4-6 hours before that contains complex carbohydrates: potato, wholewheat pasta, cous cous, and brown rice.
During exercise lasting over 60 minutes glycogen and fluid stores are depleted. This means energy levels will rapidly drop, and performance will suffer. Muscles will become weaker, nerve impulses slower and lactic acid will build up. Hydrating with water is possible for low level exertion for a short time but after this water will not be absorbed quickly enough. The gut wall needs a combination of electrolytes and sugars to get the water across the wall and into the blood stream. Without these cramps in the stomach and muscles will develop. Using a high calorie energy bar that is easy to digest can help with energy levels.
After exercise pain and stiffness will develop as the endorphins levels become lower. Hydrating during exercise will decrease post exercise pain although sweating and urine losses of fluids still occur after. To compensate for these losses fluid balance should be achieved within 4-6 hours. Drink plenty of water slowly over this time and take a fast acting carbohydrate drink. To ensure you can get the most out of your body for the next session have a lean protein meal within 2 hours, and take an amino acid protein supplement as it repairs muscle fibres and improves elasticity.
Following this take some time to rest and recover!
Some people may also benefit from other supplements such as Coenzyme Q10 for cellular energy or glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM for joint repair. Not all endurance athletes need these however and your Nutrition specialist should be able to advise on your particular needs.