A Different Breed: Nutritional Needs for Endurance Athletes

What do you picture when you think of an endurance athlete? Most likely you see lean, tone legs, tight abs and the ability to run across the country.  It’s a tough description to fit but cyclists, skiers and soccer players all fall into this category.

Like any athlete, these competitors are looking for any way to gain an edge over their rivals. They, along with nutritionists and dieticians, closely monitor their calorie intake and breakdown to maximize performance and avoid injury.

It’s not surprising their diets are more complex than that of other athletes.

A Generic Game Plan

Have you ever seen a soccer team take the field executing the same game plan as their competition? Of course not. No two athletes are the same. Many factors determine what the correct amount of calories are for an individual such as gender, size and sport.

A skier training six hours a day may need more proteins and antioxidants for sore muscles where a runner may need more carbohydrates and energy to get a faster time.

There is no formula to figure out the perfect amount of calories or break down of food groups. It is up to nutritionists, dieticians and the athlete to experiment until they find a perfect balance.

The Triangle of Food Groups

Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats are the three main food groups of endurance athletes.

Carbs, such as bread, rice and pasta, give the body energy and make up the largest food group for endurance athletes. The key to this food group is to find the proper amount. Too many carbs can result in a slow, sluggish performance.

Proteins like lean meats and low fait dairy products repair muscles. This makes up a smaller percentage of the diet for endurance athletes.

Fats make up the smallest percentage of an athlete’s diet but are very important. Found in chocolates, sweets and fast foods, fats are slow to digest. They are included in the diet to give the correct amount of balance between the food groups.


Aside from eating right, endurance athletes are also worried about staying properly hydrated. Failure to hydrate correctly can have costly results. Water is the most important hydration source for athletes. Endurance athletes in particular also consume sports drinks because of the duration of their activities. Sports drinks help replenish electrolytes as well as hydrate.

It’s important endurance athletes avoid teas, coffee, and alcohol, which lead to dehydration.

To learn more about your nutrition needs as you train, perform and recover from physical activity, sign up for your:  Sports Nutrition Free Report.

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