What to Eat Before, During, and After an Endurance Event

What to Eat Before, During, and After an Endurance Event

Summer months in Wisconsin are a great time to get outdoors and get workouts in while it is sunny and warm. Not only do people’s outdoor workouts pick up, but so do people taking part or competing in endurance events. No matter what endurance workout you are involved in, proper nutrition and fueling are essential for optimal results, health, and enjoyment in the event.

The term “endurance events” can mean different things for different people. For some it may refer to marathons, triathlons, or Ironman’s, but to other it includes 5k’s, charity bike rides, and shorter triathlons as well. However, fueling properly is one way to make sure that whatever event you are doing, no matter the distance, you perform at an optimal level and your body gets the nutrition it needs. The two biggest differences in fueling and recovering from the events will be timing and amount of food.

Eating Before an Endurance Event

Usually endurance events take place in the morning so breakfast is extremely important for getting ready for your day. You want to try and get in plenty of carbs (more for longer events), healthy fats, and some lean protein. The carbs and fats will help provide you with plenty of energy to finish strong without having to hit every aid station. A little protein is important because it can help prevent muscle breakdown and help lessen soreness after the event. The key to fats and proteins is to find things that your stomach can tolerate well. So heavy, greasy fats/proteins are not the best options.

For shorter events, eating what would be considered a normal breakfast should be sufficient. Try to avoid the overly processed, sugary cereals. Great options here can be:

  • Toast with peanut butter (or any nut butter) and a little jelly with a hard-boiled egg or yogurt
  • Scrambled egg burrito w/ veggies and a piece of fruit
  • Cottage cheese & fruit w/ a piece of toast

If you have to be up and eat breakfast long before the start of the event, you may want to consider bringing along a gel packet or something small to help tie you over. Otherwise, a healthy breakfast should help carry you through. Longer events, say anything lasting longer than 60-90 minutes, will require a bit more fuel for the day. The trick for these longer events actually happens well before competition day. On your longer training days, experiment with different foods and amounts for breakfast. For longer duration events, it is important that you pick foods that do not cause any digestive discomfort but stay with you long enough to give sustained and consistent energy. Slow digesting carbs work best and examples include:

  • Steel cut oats or old-fashioned oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Healthy homemade pancakes

Eating During an Endurance Event

For longer events, fueling during the event can be important as well. When choosing what to eat during a longer event, there are a few things to consider. The first issue is the portability of the food. Food such as peanut butter sandwiches do not travel very well. The second issue is the ease of which the food item can be consumed. Again, a peanut butter sandwich is pretty messy and tricky to eat while doing an event. This is where gel packets come in real handy. Just tear them open and enjoy.  You can stash a couple either in pockets or even carry in your hands. Just please remember to discard the container and not just throw to the side of the road.

Eating for Recovery After an Endurance Event

Following an event, you should eat carbohydrates to replace depleted glycogen stores and lean protein to enhance the speed of recovery and reduce soreness. It’s also important to hydrate with plenty of water at this time. Some options can include fruit juice, yogurt, and chocolate milk. For your next meal following an endurance event you should emphasize foods like potatoes, pasta, breads, and vegetables.

If you are training for your next endurance event but are unsure of how to fuel your body, schedule a free fitness consultation with any of our knowledgeable nutrition coaches!

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Jason Liegl Certified Personal Trainer at Elite Sports Club - Mequon

Written by Jason Liegl, Certified Personal Trainer & AMP Program Director at Elite Sports Club – Mequon.

Jason re-joined Elite Sports Club-Mequon in 2008. He holds a BS in Fitness Management from UW-Parkside. Jason is a certified personal trainer through ACE. He is also certified by Titleist Performance Institute as a level 1 Golf Fitness Instructor, Functional Movement Specialist level 1, Functional Movement Systems level 1, Kettlebell Athletics level 1, and Precision Nutrition level 1 nutrition coach. Jason has experience in training athletes from almost every sport. His belief is that with a solid foundation and hard work, any athlete can get better!


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