An article by dietitian; Danielle Roberts, with free high endurance sample meal plan.
Endurance events have become very popular. Doing well, and recovering well in these longer endurance events can be directly linked to good nutrition. Recovery is very important especially on the longer stage races to prevent muscle fatigue.
The energy requirements of endurance athletes are higher than other athletes. Calorie requirements differ depending on an athlete’s gender, age, weight goals, and training programme. Smaller athletes in light training may need a minimum of 2,000 calories per day; while larger athletes and those in heavy training may need well over 5,000 calories per day. It is important that athletes try achieve these calories from a variety of food sources and especially fresh whole foods. Having a good nutrition program that meets energy, weight and training goals during the early phases of training, helps prepare you for heavy training schedules, and competition or races. A sports dietitian is the best person to assist in a personalised meal plan that times nutrition around your training sessions.
Carbohydrates, such as potatoes provide the ideal energy source for most endurance exercises because they are quickly absorbed and used by the body. Following a diet that is too low in carbohydrates can cause fatigue and injury. Also, eating sufficient carbohydrates spares protein from being used as a source of fuel during exercise. Generally, 3-5g / kg is needed per day (and up to 7g / kg for some people!) for high-intensity endurance athletes to perform at their best day after day, and on race day. Examples of these carbohydrates are potatoes, bananas, dried fruits and potentially other fruits like grapes.
Protein (think meat, biltong, chicken, fish, eggs) helps to build and repair muscles and supports the immune function. Protein also is used as a minor fuel for endurance exercise and sport. Even during race events and long training sessions, taking in a little protein, along with carbohydrates, helps prevent muscle breakdown. This is vital for recovery post training, especially in multi-stage races, and to allow for muscle protein synthesis. Generally, 1.2-1.7g / kg protein is needed per day. Try snack on biltong, dry wors, nuts along the way during a race for a little protein…but not too much!
Following a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet means you can easily meet your needs for endurance training and racing. Eat a diet high in quality carbohydrates, moderate in healthy fat and adequate in lean protein.
Your nutrient intake and diet plan need to adjust to meet changing energy and macronutrient demands as you progress through the different stages of training and competition. Once you have an eating plan in place for a particular cycle, keep consistent eating habits to maintain or improve performance goals.
During a race or event, carbohydrates (or an energy source), becomes very important to avoid “hitting the wall”. This is when your body runs out of available energy sources to fuel performance, and the athlete feels exhausted. Taking in intermediate or fast digesting carbohydrates (potatoes, bananas, grapes) can prevent this from happening during a race. There are some athletes who are able to adapt to using fat as a source of energy during longer (slower) events, but it takes a while for the body to adapt to a low-carb training diet, and this needs to be monitored closely and adhered to strictly. Something to be cautious of is ingesting too many slow absorbing fuels like proteins, or foods with fibre during workouts or races, which can cause gastric discomfort. An emptier, lighter stomach can absorb your race drink or potato or banana quickly and properly.
The most important tip to follow for any type of race is, of course, never to try a new supplement or food on race day. An athlete should always be familiar with the race food provided by the sponsors, just in case that specific supplement/food disagrees with your digestive system, makes you feel nauseous or causes drops in sugar levels.
My tip would be to stick to natural foods instead of fancy ‘race bars’ as your potatoes and bananas are easy to digest, are not very sweet (so it won’t cause taste fatigue), are high in potassium & magnesium for electrolytes, and of course much more reasonable to buy!
Goodluck out there. Eat Smart. Recover Smart.