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Nutrition tips for endurance athletes.

Image of two cyclists biking down a road.

If you’re logging countless miles and hours endurance training, your body can’t perform on sub-par nutrition. Endurance athletes have unique nutritional needs, and the foods they eat should meet three main goals: 

  1. Provide calories needed for exercise 

  2. Restore glycogen, the storage form of glucose that allows you to exercise tomorrow

  3. Repair lean body mass to increase muscle size and strength 

Below you will find recommendations for before, during and after your endurance exercise.

3-4 Hours Pre-Exercise

Meals three to four hours before exercise need to supply your body with energy from carbohydrates and also protein, which helps deliver slow and steady energy to the muscles.

  • Recommended: Low glycemic index foods, low fat, low fiber, lean protein 

  • Not Recommended: New foods that you haven't eaten before

  • Sample Menu: 1 egg burrito made with 1 egg + 2 egg whites, 1 ounce cheddar cheese, diced peppers, onions, tomatoes, tortilla, 1 medium banana, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup water. 

1 Hour Before Exercise

If there is an hour or less before you hop on a bike, solid foods may not work for you. If that’s the case, aim for beverages that provide carbohydrates. If you need something a little more substantial to keep you full, fruits work wonders.

  • Recommended: High carbohydrate, moderate protein, low fat, low fiber 

  • Not Recommended: High fat, high fiber, carbonated drinks, sugary beverages

  • Sample Menu (Choose 1): 1 small orange, peach, pear, banana, 1 cup watermelon, 1 cup cantaloupe, Gatorade Prime™ energy chews, Nature Valley™ granola bar 

During Exercise

If you’re exercising for more than 45 minutes continuously (ahem, RAGBRAI riders), you need to maintain energy and fluid balance. Say “hello” to sports drinks. 

  • Recommended: Drink 7 to 10 ounces every 15 minutes for best results. The ideal fluid replacer during exercise should have 14–19 grams carbohydrate per 8 ounces 50–170 mg sodium per 8 ounces 30–50 mg potassium per 8 ounces.

Post Work-Out (within 30 minutes of exercise)

Exercise recovery has two main goals: restore glycogen and restore/build lean body mass (aka muscle).

  • Sample Menu: Muscle Milk® Chocolate milk Gatorade™ Recover Protein Shake


Whitney Hemmer RD, LD

Whitney Hemmer RD, LD

Registered Dietitian

Whitney graduated from Iowa State University with a BA in Dietetics & is a member of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, as well as the Iowa Dietetic Association. With a focus on overall health, wellness and counseling, she is well equipped to help you with your individual nutritional needs.

Click here for more information on our dietitians.

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