When training for endurance, athletes need more than just energy — they need to be able to sustain their energy over long periods of time and while performing strenuous activity. That means nutrition for endurance athletes hinges on foods that provide lots of sustained energy.
Quick boosts, like you get from caffeine or sugar, are helpful in the moment, but they don’t last long. And just because a certain food or ingredient gives you that boost doesn’t always mean it’s a healthy choice in the long run. So it’s important for all athletes — and endurance athletes in particular — to create a nutrition plan with foods that are both high-energy and nutritious.
Read on to learn more about which ingredients provide some of the best energy and nutrition for endurance athletes.
Nutrition for Endurance Athletes: The Basics
Endurance training focuses on improving the body’s ability to sustain exercise for longer periods of time. Specifically, it focuses on both cardiovascular and muscular endurance, two major components of overall fitness. Better endurance is typically achieved through aerobic exercise to strengthen the heart and lungs — think running, jogging, swimming, and cycling.
When planning the best nutrition for endurance athletes, it’s important to include plenty of macros (protein, carbs, and fats), since these fuel the body with sustained energy. More than just eating lots of carbohydrates, though, it’s best to ensure the carbs you eat are the type that digest slowly, resulting in a slower and more sustained release of energy.
In addition, endurance athletes need to be sure to get plenty of iron, as iron deficiency can be a particularly common issue for endurance athletes — especially women or any athletes following a plant-based diet.
5 Key Ingredients for Endurance Training
Ready to dive into some specific food choices? Here are a few key ingredients to help build better nutrition for endurance athletes:
- Whole grains: Whole grains, like oats, are a great choice for endurance athletes because they provide lots of fiber and complex carbs. Oats in particular are also a great source of protein and fat along with many other vitamins and minerals, making them one of the most nutritious whole grains out there.
- Dried fruit: With plenty of carbohydrates, dried fruits like apricots, raisins, bananas, and berries are great for a quick boost of energy. Many fruits are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, fiber, and even iron. However, since dried fruit is mostly a source of quick energy, it’s best to pair it with other foods that are high in protein and fats in order to stay satisfied and energized over a longer period of time.
- Legumes: Examples of legumes include peanuts, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, and various types of beans. While low in fat, legumes are high in protein and slow-digesting carbohydrates, providing sustained levels of energy over time.
- Vegetables: Sweet potatoes, carrots, leafy greens (like kale), broccoli, and other vegetables are obvious healthy nutrition choices, and they can help increase endurance, too. Many types of vegetables contain various vitamins and minerals, most notably iron, potassium, and calcium. These will help keep your muscles loaded with oxygen and your bones strong enough to withstand tough training.
Nuts: From almonds to walnuts, nuts are common health food favorites due to their protein and healthy fat content. They’re energy boosting, full of nutrients, antioxidants, and vitamins, and great for your heart — excellent for improved endurance and overall fitness.
Since the goal of nutrition for endurance athletes is to strengthen the body’s ability to perform sustained activity over prolonged periods, both quantity and quality of food is important. In general, the more healthy, energy-fueling foods you eat, the better (within reason, of course). However, you should always consult your doctor or nutritionist to create a nutrition plan tailored to your specific dietary needs.
Better Nutrition, Better Endurance
As with any other type of nutrition plan, the key to better nutrition for endurance athletes is understanding what’s in the foods you consume and which components will help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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