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Training Tips

Four Diets for Endurance Athletes
courtesy of Wenzel Coaching

Endurance athletes have four diets, each necessary for success and each appropriate for a certain time in the yearly and weekly training cycles. The one thing consistent throughout is the necessity to drink a lot of water. The main diet is the one that keeps an athlete lean and healthy (See the Leaning Out and Generally Healthy Diet). This is what you eat on a daily basis in the off season, and all the time in season except event day and a day or two before event day. The next most important diet is the one that tops off the energy stores prior to an event. This is what you eat the day or two before the event and the morning of the event. (For beginning athletes the long training day each week should be counted as an event, unless weight loss is desired). The next diet is the one that keeps your energy levels high during the event, and the final diet is what you do to recharge and reward yourself after an event. Different foods and quantities are appropriate to each of these four diets. Understanding what and when to eat will help you along your way toward new peaks of athletic excellence. So what are the components of the four diets?

The main all-the-time diet is a good "healthy" diet (see below). It is low in fats, especially the saturated fats found in butter, red meat, and deep-lard-fried foods. It includes little or no processed sugar including cakes, cookies, and candies, even if the candies are labeled as athletic energy foods or drinks. It includes generous amounts of protein (about one quarter to half of a gram per pound of body weight per day depending on how much exercise you do.) The protein is distributed so that you get a little in every meal or snack. The main diet includes a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limited amounts of pasta, bread and potatoes. Eating a good main diet will help make you lean no matter how much or how little you exercise. (Don't use the unmodified "Zone" diet in season or during heavy training. It is a form of crash diet and is suitable only for rapid weight loss in the off season. If you want to count something, use the Zone numbers for protein, cut the fat and eat enough carbohydrate to end up losing no more than 1/2 pound per week in season.)

The pre-event diet is eaten starting a day (short event) or two (longer event) before the event and is like the main diet with an added serving of white pasty foods (pasta, rice, bread or potatoes) in each meal. Notice that I say "an extra serving", and not "as much as you can eat." The pre-event diet is lower than the main diet in protein as a percentage of total calories, but not in absolute amount of protein. The pre-event diet should be rich in easily digestible foods so you won't have to carry a load of partially digested food during the event. This mean less whole grains, fibrous veggies and fatty meat than in the daily diet.

The event diet consists of very high carbohydrate foods with a little protein and almost no fat. This is where your athletic energy foods, bananas, fig bars, yams and sports drinks come in. If you eat enough during an event or hard training ride you should not be ravenous immediately afterwards. If you drink enough you should need to pee within the first half hour after getting off the bike. Your urine should be C&C (Clear and Copious). Gel-type energy foods give you a big rush and a big crash, so be sure to carry enough for the whole event, or start using them later in the event.

The post-event diet serves to recharge you physically and psychologically. Immediately after a race eat or drink some easily digestible carbohydrate and protein and drink a lot of water. Recovery drinks, whether they are laboratory-based mixes or yogurt/egg/banana/fruit juice smoothies, can really help you get back-in gear for the next day. After your warm-down and getting into clean clothing go for some food you crave. The is the only time of the week (and year) that I would recommend eating a double-bacon cheeseburger with fries and a malt. If you've stuck to your other three diets, you've earned it!

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