Key Facts About Nutrition & Hydration for Endurance Event Training

We spoke to Dr Dominique Condo, APD, about hydration and nutrition when training for any endurance sports. Dr Dom is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Nutrition at Deakin University and Sports Dietitian for the Geelong Football Club.

woman running endurance in rain down road

In your experience, what would a complete 12-week training program look like from a nutritional and hydration point of view?

The key to a 12-week training program is to ensure that your nutritional intake matches the increases and changes in load. Over the 12 weeks, we would typically see training progress in duration and intensity. It is vital to ensure that your fuelling and recovery match this. The key elements we would consider:

  • Ensure your carbohydrate intake is adequate for the work you are doing. When we train for endurance events, the carbohydrate requirement will be high on most days. However, there are often certain days and times when carbohydrate intake will need to increase, such as before and after an intense or long training session and leading into the event.

  • Ensure your protein intake is inconsistent and of high quality over the day. We now know that a regular and consistent intake of protein over the day (around 5-6 eating occasions) is optimal for muscle recovery. We can only use a certain amount of protein at one time for muscle protein synthesis and repair. Thus, we must ensure we focus on protein intake at all meals and snacks. The quality of protein is also essential, aiming for a complete protein that provides the essential amino acids and can be readily digested. The protein should also be high in leucine, a branched-chain amino acid that assists with activating the muscle recovery process—examples of this include dairy-based such as milk or yoghurt and whey-based supplements.

  • Ensure hydration is a priority. Like carbohydrates, as the training becomes longer and more intense, the greater risk of dehydration and fluid requirements increase. Weather is also critical in determining how much fluid is needed. Suppose training or competition is in warmer weather. In that case, we require more liquid and electrolytes (that we lose in sweat) to avoid dehydration.
man running near mountains down road on cliff

I often hear people training for a running event, like a half Marathon or the like, say, "I'm doing so much exercise at the moment, I can eat what I like". What would your advice be if you heard this?

Yes, I hear this a lot! There is SOME truth to this.. in that their energy requirements are so high that they feel they can eat what they like as when they do, they don't notice any weight changes. However, when it comes to sports nutrition and performance, it is more than just calories in and calories out. Those calories' quality is essential for fuelling, recovery and immune health. So when I hear this, my advice often is, "but imagine how much better you could run if you ate well". That response tends to get their attention as anyone committing to an endurance event such as a marathon or anyone dedicated to their training wants to do the best they can.

There seems to be a lot of attention placed on training, ensuring you get the miles in your legs and eating well before and during a training run or event, but what about the recovery zone? Isn't this a crucial part of your next run?

Yes, recovery is a crucial element to the performance and being able to prepare for your next run. The "recovery zone" or "window of opportunity" will depend on when your next run is. We used to think getting protein in as quickly as possible is crucial, but now we know that the spread of protein over the day is most important. So whether you have protein straight away or 1-2 hrs after won't make a massive difference if it has been consistent over the day. An essential element of recovery is carbohydrate intake to replenish the glycogen stores that we often use with endurance activity. The time we need to do this will depend on the next run or training session. If you have a couple of days, then the timing isn't crucial, as glycogen stores will have time to replenish. But if you train the same day again, the quicker the carbohydrates are consumed, the better. The recovery process needs to start as soon as possible ready for the next session.

The other element of recovery is hydration. This should commence close to when training or an event finishes preventing dehydration. The amount of fluid needed will differ for each person, so you should look for signs of hydration such as the colour and volume of urine, thirst, headaches, lack of concentration, nausea, and so on.

women drinking water bottle after run at beach

Let's talk about hydration. 101 blogs about carb loading and eating during a training run or event, but what about hydration? What would be the outcome if a person eats perfectly during a training run or an event but neglects their hydration? 

You are correct. There is not as much detail on hydration as there is about carbs and protein, despite knowing how crucial it is. This is likely because it is challenging to estimate hydration requirements as it does vary on the person and environmental factors. However, it will be essential to ensure that events are started in a well-hydrated state, which would mean having an adequate intake of water leading into the event. In many events, it may not be easy to find the opportunities to hydrate; therefore, starting hydrated is crucial.

For more extended-duration events, it will also be essential to make sure you have a hydration plan. This may consist of what you have pre-event, including water, electrolytes or fluid such as PREPD Prime and what/when you plan to have fluids over the event. Adequate hydration post-event is also crucial to recovery and should consist of water, electrolytes and liquids high in amino acids such as PREPD Recover. Dehydration can result in reduced performance (every athlete's worst nightmare) and other side effects, including headaches, nausea and fatigue. So your hydration strategy and thinking about hydration are critical!