‘Tis the season for exercise. As temperatures rise and swimsuits call, we can’t help but push ourselves a little harder. Once your exercise routine changes and endurance amps up, so should your eating habits and self awareness.
We caught up with Megan Hovis, Upgrade Lifestyle’s registered dietitian and NESTA personal trainer to give us the scoop on what qualifies as endurance training, proper nutrition with this intense training, and what we should know but aren’t asking. As an endurance athlete herself, Megan started running distance events in high school, and went on to run both cross country and track & field at the University of New Hampshire. Post college, Megan started marathon training and qualified to run in the Olympic Trials for the marathon in both 2008 and 2012. After that, Megan moved on to ultra running and currently averages anywhere from 90-100 miles per week focusing on the marathon distance. Needless to say, she’s a total #girlboss.
Don’t worry – even if you aren’t an endurance athlete, Megan’s meal time recommendations alone are worth the read!
What exactly qualifies an “endurance athlete” or “distance runner?”
According to Megan, distance runners are athletes who participate or compete in middle to long distances ranging from one mile to ultra marathons. Distance running uses aerobic systems verses anaerobic systems that we generally rely on for sprints. What’s the difference? The presence (aerobic) or absence (anaerobic) of oxygen. During aerobic exercise with the presence of adequate fuel and oxygen, our bodies allow for muscles to contract readily without fatigue.
What is the recommended calorie intake for those training for distance running/endurance races?
The first thing to consider is variations of calorie intake depending on gender, height, and overall activity. Active women require approximately 2,00 to 2,400 calories per day while men range anywhere from 2,400 to 3,000. Athletes participating in endurance fitness will need even more calories depending upon length and intensity of their training. The American Dietetic Association reports that women athlete’s consuming less than 1,800-2,000 calories per day might create a negative energy balance, weight loss, malnutrition and other health problems.
Remember this: the more you run, the more calories you need to maintain body wight. Feeling sluggish? Hard recovery? Getting sick? Poor performance? Up your calorie intake!
Why is it important to change your diet when your exercise routine changes?
When you are eating, you want to make sure you are matching your personal energy expenditure. Training longer and harder means your body requires more calories. On top of that, your body also asks for more iron, protein, water, electrolytes, etc. In order to perform and recover your best, you match intake with output.
What are some things you see endurance athletes doing that you wish they wouldn’t?
- Failing to drink anything during a long run
- Consuming too many GU’s and Gatorade or drinking Gatorade throughout the day
- Eating an immense amount of calories in “junk” post workout/long run
- Waiting too long to eat after a run – anything longer than 30 minutes is too long!
- Trying new foods/beverages right before a race/workout
Speaking of Gatorade, what are your thoughts on electrolyte drinks like Gatorade and Powerade?
Megan explains that while it is important to get both water and electrolytes during endurance training, consuming too much in sugary beverages can cause stomach distress. NUUN is an electrolyte tablets that many endurance athlete use. All the electrolytes of gatorade without all the sugar. However, NUUN does not provide the calories that these sport drinks do so its important to refuel your body should you decide to switch tactics. During races, Megan will take one cup of water and one cup of Gatorade at each stop. She drinks a sip or two of the sport drink and drinks most of the water – it’s like watered down Gatorade. Too much of the sporting drinks might cause an unwanted trip to the ports john or feelings of nausea.
What do some athletes do, thinking it’s a good idea, when in actuality it could be hurting their performance?
Endurance athletes sometimes restrict calories, skip meals/snacks, drink too much Gatorade and therefore too much sugar, and eliminate too many carbs. Keeping complex carbs in your diet is key to an effective workout – try quinoa, who grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.
What should athletes be eating pre/post workout for snacks to input the best nutrients for their bodies?
Pre workout, try:
- Luna or KIND bars
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich (some have a hard time with bananas, others find them to be the perfect fuel for cramp prevention)
- Toast with natural peanut butter, honey or jelly
- Oatmeal with a drizzle of honey or peanut butter – eat this one 1.5 hours before a workout
Post workout, go for:
- Turkey sandwich
- Protein shake
- Low fat chocolate milk
- English muffin with peanut butter
- Turkey or tofu chili
- Energy bar with greek yogurt
- Orange slices, crackers with peanut butter
- Homemade smoothie (see Megan’s recipe below)
How much extra H2O should runners be consuming when training?
Daily Hydration: As a general rule, drink about half your weight (in ounces) plus 8oz per 15 minutes of exercise. For example, if you weigh 120 lbs, and exercise 60 minutes, you need 60 oz plus 32 oz for exercise = 92 oz total
Before a run: 2-3 hours before a long run, you want a combination of water and sports drink (think 16-20oz)
After a run: Continue to hydrate with a combination of sports drink and water until urine reaches a light lemonade color.
What are your go to snacks? Meals?
For breakfast, Megan recommends 1/4 cup steel cut oats mixed with almond milk and 3/4 cup berries or a small banana and walnuts. Her other go to is 2 scrambled egg whites with 1 whole egg, a sprinkle of cheese, salsa, 1 cup of spinach or kale and a small piece of fruit.
When snacking, Megan reaches for:
- Handful of raw nuts that provides protein and satiety
- Banana with natural almond butter or peanut butter
- Rice cake with almond butter
- Greek yogurt topped with berries
- Smoothies including fruit, greek yogurt, & almond butter
- Hummus & veggies
- String cheese with a piece of fruit
- 1/2 turkey sandwich on whole grain bread
At lunchtime, build a big salad. Include mixed greens, 3oz protein (baked/grilled fish or chicken) or beans (black beans, chickpeas) with any veggies, 1oz nuts, and 2T olive oil based dressing. Not into salads? Other healthy lunches include a turkey burger on lettuce leaf or a whole grain roll. Add spinach, tomato, mustard, hummus and sliced peppers or cucumbers on the side to make it more interesting. Another alternative is egg salad made with one hardboiled egg, 1T mustard, 1T hummus and eaten on a whole wheat wrap with a side of cucumbers or sliced peppers dipped in 2T hummus.
Finally, for dinner, Megan suggests the following go to’s:
- 4-6oz grilled chicken or fish with 2 cups steamed veggies like broccoli or asparagus and 1 cup of quinoa
- 3 egg omelette made with 3 egg whites, 1 cup spinach/kale, turkey or chicken diced finely, 1/2-1 cup broccoli, and 1 oz cheese. Add a side of asparagus
- Stuffed red peppers with 1/2 cup quinoa or brown rice, 1 cup mixed veggies and 1/2 cup ground turkey or lean hamburger. Add a spinach salad with olive oil based dressing on the side.
Ok, so we are exercising more and as a result we are hungry all the time! How you you recommend athletes keep full?
Megan explains this is common. The key is fueling your body every few hours with quality nutrition. For example, if you completed a 16 miles run and decided to eat two donuts after, you are going to be starving an hour later. The sugar combined with a lack of fiber or protein causes food to go right through our systems which spike blood sugar. Now you need even more food to help combat that hunger. Choose a bowl of steel cut oats with a sprinkle of walnuts, berries and 2T of almond butter instead. That meal fills your body with both fiber and protein which provides a satisfying effect. That will keep your body full for a couple of hours most likely. Keep blood sugar in check by fueling your body every 3-4 hours. Always include a protein sourcing with your meal or snack to help keep satisfied.
It’s race day! What should athletes do before the shotgun start?
The night before, stick to simple foods and don’t try anything new to your routine. Contrary to popular belief, yo don’t need to overload on pasta or bread. Instead focus on a good balance of lean protein, veggies, and carbohydrates. Limit any fatty foods or lots of dairy and fiber. Megan’s night before recommendation meal is 5oz grilled chicken or dish with a sweet potato or brown rice, green beans, and carrots.
The morning of the race, limit dairy as it can sometimes cause stomach distress. Also limit high fat foods (they take a while to digest) and acidic foods (skip the salsa on the omelette or OJ with breakfast). Choose any foods that are simple and go down easily and give yourself enough time before the race to digest. Grab an english muffin with some peanut butter to follow Megan’s routine.
Finally, timing is key:
- if you have 4 hours before the race, eat a full meal.
- if you have 3 hours before the race, eat a slightly smaller meal.
- if you have 2 hours before the race, eat a light meal.
- if you have 1 hour before the race, Megan recommends liquid calories only
Tell me about alcohol and endurance althetes. Asking for a friend…
Megan says moderation is key. Calories in alcohol quickly add up and excess calories from these drinks promote body fat accumulation. Ugh. Alcohol also increases appetite lending to overeating. The definition of moderate drinking is two drinks per day for men and one drink for the ladies.
Keep in mind, alcohol can also cause…
It is a powerful diuretic that can cause severe dehydration and staggering electrolyte imbalance. This can cause several days or even a full week for recovery.
Alcohol impairs reaction tim and mental activity for up to several days after consumption. It also interferes with lactic acid breakdown and results in increased soreness after a workout.
Alcohol contains 7 calories/gram. Fat has 9 calories/gram. Therefore, alcohol stores like fat.
While it might accelerate falling asleep, the negative effect arise later and impact the quality and duration of sleep. In moderation its ok to consumer 1- 2 drinks per week – any more can cause negative effects for high performing athletes.
Can you help to break down the essential nutrients that athletes need and the best sources to get them?
- Iron – low iron causes fatigue, poor recovery, and low energy. Sources include: lean beef, pork, chicken, spinach, lentils, peas, whole grain breads, fortified cereals, canned tuna, hard boiled eggs, and baked potato with skin.
- Calcium – the appropriate calcium intake prevents features. Good sources include: skim or low fat milk, yogurt, cheddar cheese, almonds, salmon, broccoli, peas, cottage cheese, calcium fortified beverages such as almond, cashew, and sow milk and string cheese.
- Potassium – prevents cramps. Costume these foods for good potassium intake on a regular basis: bananas, raisins, sweet potato, yogurt, avocado, oranges, melon, kiwi, winter squash, and tomatoes
What’s your favorite cookbook for when you’re in a nutrition or meal plan rut?
Megan recommends Run Fast, Eat Slow – a cookbook written by runners, for runners.
Megan’s favorite tips for athlete nutrition:
- Eat early and eat often to stay properly fueled and perform well.
- Eat ever 3-4 hours.
- Don’t eat huge portions at any one meal.
- Start every day with a healthy, balanced breakfast.
- Have a protein with all meals and snacks.
- Eat a well balanced diet the majority of the time and indulge in treats only in moderation.