Key facts about nutrition and hydration for endurance event training

We spoke to Dr Dominique Condo, APD, and ask her a few questions about hydration and nutrition when training for any type of endurance sports.

Dr Dominique is a Senior Lecturer in Sports Nutrition at Deakin University and Sports Dietitian for the Geelong Football Club.

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 normally see training progress in both duration and intensity and it is important to ensure that your fuelling and recovery matches 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 of days where carbohydrate intake will need to increase, such before and after an intense or long training sessions and leading into the event.

–          Ensure your protein intake in consistent over the day and of high quality. What we now know is 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 need to make sure we focus on protein intake at all meals and snacks. The quality of protein is also very important, 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. Example of this include dairy based such as milk or yoghurt and whey based supplements.

–          Ensure hydration is a priority. Similar to carbohydrates, as the training becomes longer and more intense, the greater risk of dehydration and therefore fluid requirements increase. The weather is also a key factor to determine how much fluid is needed. If training or competition is in warmer weather, we require more fluid and electrolytes (that we lose in sweat) to avoid dehydration.

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 changes in weight. However, when it comes to sports nutrition and performance, it is more than just calories in, calories out. The quality of those calories is so important 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 actually ate well”. That response tends to get their attention as anyone who is committing to an endurance event such as a marathon, or anyone who is dedicated to their training wants to do the best they can.

There seems to be a lot of attention placed on training and making sure you get the miles in your legs, 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 absolutely, recovery is a key element to 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 quick as possible is crucial, but now we know that it is the spread of protein over the day that is most important. So whether you have protein straight away or 1-2 hrs after won’t make a huge difference if it has been consistent over the day. A really important element of recovery is carbohydrate intake in order to replenish the glycogen stores that we often use with endurance activity. The time we need to do this in will all 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 are training again the same day, the quicker the carbohydrates are consumed the better as the recovery process needs to start as soon as possible ready for the next session.  

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

Let’s talk about hydration. There are 101 blogs out there about carb loading, eating during a training run or event, but what about hydration? If a person eats perfectly during a training run or an event, but neglects their hydration what would be the outcome? 

You are very 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 difficult to estimate hydration requirements as it really does vary on the person and environmental factors. However, it will be important 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 be difficult to find the opportunities to hydrate and therefore starting hydrated is crucial. For longer duration events it will also be important to make sure you have a hydration plan. This may consist of what you have pre-event, including water, electrolytes or fluid such as Prep’d Prime and what/when you plan of having fluids over the event. Adequate hydration post-event is also crucial to recovery and again should consist of water, electrolytes and fluids high in amino acids such as Prep’d Recover. If hydration is neglected there is a risk of dehydration, which can result in reduced performance (every athletes worst nightmare) and other side effects including headaches, nausea and fatigue. So your hydration strategy and thinking about hydration is key!