There is a lot of discussion right now regarding how to eat to optimize ultra-endurance performance. Most of the new chatter seems legitimate and centers around increasing the body’s ability to utilize fat as a fuel by restructuring the daily diet. Seemingly lost in the discussion though is the traditional endurance-athlete diet of higher carbohydrate consumption. There is a gigantic body of research supporting a diet of 60% carbohydrate or more for ‘endurance fiends’. Is this the proper way to eat to maximize our ultra-endurance performance? Dr. Scott Drum lays out the argument below that we cannot neglect carbohydrate consumption. There is much validity to Scott’s well-written and science-based article. The point that most readers will make probably centers around just where are those carbohydrates are coming from. Keep the dialogue rolling! Over the next few weeks we will be posting more nutrition related articles and links to resources. In the mean time, do not settle for the status-quo. Autumn is the perfect time to re-evaluate for next summer’s ultra season. Identify the 1 or 2 changes that you need to make to better yourself and then experiment/tinker with new ideas this fall and lay the ‘ground-work’ for performance improvement in the future! Thanks for reading. Eat well. Think well. DC
There goes a saying that you are what you eat. So live it…honestly! For endurance training and racing the need to train consistently and without unwanted breaks is the “magic bullet.” To do this properly, eating habits that encompass daily, planned ingestion of perpetual motion nutrients (e.g., carbs) are of paramount importance. In short, put away the quirky diets, starvation theories that purportedly allow an ultra runner to “burn more fat,” and special weapon foods. Where you’re going you need a balanced and regimented diet with discarded notions that one particular substance, foodstuff or ergogenic aid works better than good old fashioned well planned meals.
Evidence-based research on athletes, especially endurance fiends, shows us the high importance of ingesting enough carbohydrates each day (ISSN Position Stand, 2008; ACSM Position Stand, 2009). For you see, ensuring everlasting carbohydrate stores allows optimal training, racing, and recovery. Importantly, carbohydrates are broken down for energy much more economically (i.e., with less oxygen) than stored or intramuscular fat. Of course you’re all aware that fat, especially intramuscular fat and fatty acids in the blood, will generate more overall energy (in the form of the wonder structure, adenosine triphosphate or ATP) versus carbohydrates per gram. The only problem is that you burn more oxygen, time, and energy processing the fat to ATP. If your race pace is truly below about 40-50% of VO2max and you wish to run like a turtle, then by all means force yourself to endure the sloth of a high fat (> 70% of daily intake) or low carbohydrate (< 30% of daily intake), slow motion diet, especially during day-to-day plods. With this contentious point swirling around your brain, I will gladly concede that periodically depriving yourself of carbs and ingesting a bit more fat (not too much more…) may enhance fat burning during moderate intense runs and especially over long time periods. However, I emphasize the concept of periodically doing this or using periodized eating schemes, such as suggested by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, and author of Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level (see his blog and webpage at: http://fuel4manceblog.blogspot.com/; interestingly, you may also notice Bob’s new book about Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn more Fat). Remember, by training consistently and eating a holistic, planned diet high in carbs with moderate fat intake and normal protein ingestion, you’ll be on the path to enlightenment. Thus, let go of all your preconceived notions and get back to basics.
So, throw away (or at least mitigate) the impression that you have a favorite drink, food, or state of mind. Eating to fuel for endurance performance is primordially easy. Just eat a lot of calories in the ratio of approximately (give or take a few percentage points) 60% carb, 18% protein, and 22% fat (mostly unsaturated). Ideally, do not drop below 15% total fat and not too much above roughly 20% protein. The rest is easy math – eat good complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains/breads, pastas, legumes, and cereals… regularly! Notably, be sure to eat over a half plate of fruits and veggies each day (or meal), while consuming 3-5+ Liters of liquid per day, mostly water mixed with some sport drink and a few cups of coffee. Hey, most endurance fanatics can’t shake the stimulant habit and most likely shouldn’t try to. By the way, caffeine, contrary to popular belief, will not invoke dehydration if you ingest the aforementioned amount of water per day. In fact, coffee itself is a helpful antioxidant and the sympathetic overdrive it promotes decreases transit time in the gut, helping keep you regular and with a lowered chance of colon cancer, among other goodness. So, yes, sip the coffee, break some whole grain bread, drink water often, and go for a run… repeatedly!
Ok, to this point I’ve been a bit of boat rocker. To this I say “good,” now you’re listening. Remember, you are what you eat and if you eat simply and often while abiding by the above ratios in percent per day of carbs, fat, and protein, you’re gettin’ it. The magic bullet is to train, race, and recover optimally. If you deprive yourself of overall carbohydrates, training, racing, and recovery are harder to do. I know, I know, you can certainly get away with a fad diet, favorite frothy drink or food, and “think” it’s getting you somewhere when quite the contrary may be happening. Instead you’ve become a slave to your own ambition and forgot the basics. Remember, a coke or natural existing food, such as chips, peanut butter, or baked potato can be far better than the expensive elixir some advertisement or company has told you is the next messiah, especially when it comes to fueling your body during long races or training runs. Shed your doubts and return to basic eating…a lot of eating and hydrating, especially because you’re an endurance hound and need it. Lastly, I promise that if you pay attention to food labels (including grams of carbohydrate, protein, and fat), looking for complex carbs or whole grains tempered with a fair helping of protein (from both animal and plant) for good muscle recovery, and the balance polyunsaturated fats, you’ll be in optimal training, racing, and recovery nirvana.
I welcome feedback and questions. Between Duncan and myself, I assure you that we’ll listen and provide thoughtful feedback to address your needs. Additionally, know that the endurance running world (and any other sport for that matter) is chock full of interesting supplements and ergogenic aids. Some work and some don’t. For instance, most carbohydrate gels, drinks, powders, and foods really do work with regard to replenishing glycogen stores and maintaining energy levels before, during, and even after training/racing. Thus, be sure to find what works best for you come race day and especially during daily training, where most of your experimenting should occur with individualized and favorite foodstuffs.
1. American College of Sports Medicine et al. Nutrition and athletic performance. (2009). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 709-731.
➢ Find article online at: http://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2009/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.27.aspx
2. Kerkisk et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. (2008). Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5:17.
➢ Find article online at: http://www.jissn.com/content/pdf/1550-2783-5-17.pdf