As professional cyclists are racing down the coast in the Tour of California this week, I wanted to share these ideas from Dr. John Heiss of Herbalife on how to ‘Eat to Compete – 5 Reasons Why Endurance Athletes Need Fuel 24/7.’
1. Athletes need to fuel up in the morning, since their stored fuel reserves will have dropped during an overnight fast. Training and racing take a toll on the body, and starting the day with a healthy meal balanced with carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals provides a solid nutritional foundation for performance.
2. Hydration is an essential need all people share. Because hydration directly impacts athletic performance, it is even more important for athletes to keep fluid levels topped off – especially during an event as demanding as a multi-day tour when cyclists can lose multiple liters of fluid in a single stage. Hydration is essential, as are electrolytes – important body salts which support proper muscle function and help regulate body temperature. It’s important to hydrate during the event, but also important to sip fluid throughout the day to fully rehydrate before the next stage. Sports drinks provide not only necessary fluid, but also electrolytes that have been lost through perspiration. Sports drinks contribute carbohydrates, too, to help fuel working muscles during the event.
3. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel during exercise and they’re essential to keep the body running. In an endurance race, calories are king and getting enough is essential for performance. Making sure to get plenty of carbohydrates both before and during the race is key, and proper nutrition on the bike also helps shorten recovery time, which is very important in a multi-day event. In addition to carbohydrates, a small amount of protein during exercise can help speed recovery.
4. After a race, the body needs the right ratios of carbohydrates and protein to begin recovering. Recovery is two-fold, and requires carbohydrate for replacing glycogen stores as well as protein for rebuilding damaged muscle.
5. Supplementation in a race is essential, as the nutritional needs of cyclists are so extreme that they can’t be met with food alone. But that being said, it is important to keep in mind that supplementation is just that – a supplement to a regular healthy diet. Every athlete should get the majority of their calories and nutrients from whole foods, primarily healthy sources of healthy carbohydrates – whole grains, fruits and vegetables – and protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, low fat dairy products and plant sources such as soy.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.