As an endurance athlete, you're busy logging the miles and getting those training sessions in. But have you thought about what you put into your body and how you treat it to help it perform it's best?
1. Eat & Drink Early & Consistently
One of the biggest mistakes athletes make is forgetting to eat and drink early and consistently throughout the day. While this is plain common sense, it‘s often disregarded—a mistake that can spell disaster no matter how well trained or prepared you are.
As a general rule, you need to replace at least half the calories you burn each hour, and you need to begin replacing those calories in the first hour if you’re going to be out for more than three hours. On a flat road without drafting, the average cyclist will burn about 200-300 Calories at 10-15 mph, 300-600 Calories at 15 to 20 mph, and 600 to 1,000 Calories at 20 to 25 mph.
Regarding hydration, on a hot day your fluid needs may be as high as 1 to 2 liters an hour. The best way to get an appreciation of how much fluid you might need is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. The weight you lose is primarily water weight, where a 1-pound loss is equal to about 16 ounces of fluid. As a general rule, try not to lose more than 3 percent of your body weight over the course of your workout.
2. Try Eating Real Food
While there are plenty of pre-packaged gels touting their ability to improve one’s performance, it’s important to realize that real food can work just as well if not better than expensive, engineered nutrition. A regular sandwich, a boiled potato with salt, a banana and a ball of sushi rice mixed with chocolate or some scrambled eggs can all give you the calories you need without upsetting your stomach the way a lot of sugary gels can. In fact, while Skratch Lab Founder Dr. Allen Lim was coaching teams at the Tour de France, the riders he worked with used real food as their primary solid fuel source, because it just worked better. Most of the recipes for these foods can be found in “The Feed Zone Cookbook” that Dr. Allen Lim wrote with Chef Biju Thomas to promote healthful, real-food eating.
3. Don’t Just Drink Water
When we sweat we lose both water and valuable electrolytes. Those electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Of these electrolytes, the vast majority (about 90%) of that loss is sodium chloride. But it’s sodium that plays a critical role in almost every bodily function.
When sodium is lost through sweat, drinking only water can further dilute the concentration of sodium in the blood, leading to a condition called hyponatreamia, which can lead to a host of problems ranging from a drop in performance to seizures and even death. The amount of sodium that we lose in sweat is highly variable ranging anywhere between 350 mg of sodium per liter of sweat to 2,000 mg/l. Because of this large range, it’s always better to err on the side of more salt than less salt, especially if you tend to see more white streaks of salt caked on your workout clothing compared to others or if you crave salt after a hard workout. Unfortunately, most sports drinks contain too much sugar, not enough sodium, and an excess of artificial ingredients, which caused many of the riders Dr. Allen Lim worked with on the Tour De France to become sick during long days on the bike. For that reason, Allen developed an all-natural sports drink using less sugar, more sodium and flavored only with real fruit. Check it out: Sport Hydration Drink Mix
Pro Tip: Outside of using a sports drink with more sodium, also consider eating salty or savory foods during your workout rather than just sweet foods.
4. Learn What You Need in Training
Competition day is not the day that you want to be experimenting with yourself. Try different hydration and feeding strategies during training well before the big day. Taking the time to prepare your own foods or try different products before race day and then writing out a specific game plan for your drinking and feeding needs can go a long way to making sure you don’t make any mistakes.
5. Sleep, Sleep, Sleep!
While proper training is obviously important, making sure you are well rested coming into an event is sometimes even more critical. You can’t cram training, so as you approach the big day, make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and aren’t killing yourself in training the week leading into your event. Just sleeping an extra hour each night the week before your event can significantly improve your performance. Finally, adding extra carbohydrate to your diet, and making sure you get plenty of calories the week before your event, will assure that your legs are fueled and ready to go.
Want some extra tips to get your head in the game? Check out 6 Mental Strategies to Prevent & Cope with Hitting the Wall by Clinical and Sport Psychologist, Dr. Kristin Keim.