Nutrition During Endurance Competition

Glycogen is the form in which carbohydrates are stored in our bodies and can be found in the liver and muscles.

Since the muscles have a greater overall surface area than the liver, a larger amount of glycogen (referred to as muscle cell glycogen) is stored there. Specifically, adults have about 2.6-3.5 ounces (75-100 grams) of carbohydrates stored in their liver glycogen and 10.6-14 ounces (300-400 grams) in their muscle cell glycogen. One of the processes taking place in the body of an athlete during an endurance race is that the stored amount of muscle cell glycogen can become twice as high as that of people who do not do sports.

In competitions that last over an hour, such as a marathon or triathlon, the glycogen reserve becomes exhausted, making nutrition during the competition an important factor. The stored glycogen (polysaccharides) is constantly broken down and converted into glucose (monosaccharides), which enters the bloodstream to produce energy.

For endurance competitions, the preservation of glucose levels in the blood is of the utmost importance. It is worth mentioning that the brain exclusively uses glucose as fuel, whereas the rest of the body can also count on fatty ac-ids and even proteins. Any kind of disturbance of these levels in the blood results in a decrease in brain function, with symptoms such as dizziness, moving difficulties, reeling, concentration problems, and even collapsing.

Remember the shocking finish of the supreme Swiss ATHLETE (the use of capital letters is for emphasis) Gabrielle Andersen in the marathon for women at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, which is a characteristic example of hypoglycemia.

I will not go further into the field of biology and the processes that take place in the human body during workouts.

However, there are a couple of basic things that every endurance athlete should know and put into practice, in order to avoid hypoglycemia and, by extension, speed reduction or failure to finish an event.

1. Apart from the glucose that originates from the muscle cell glycogen and liver glycogen, isotonic drinks should be another important source of energy during endurance competitions of over one hour. These drinks contain not only carbohydrates in a fluid form, but also electrolytes, which the body loses upon sweating and which therefore have to be replenished. The ideal amount of carbohydrates in these drinks is 6-8%. Less than that is insufficient, while in a higher concentration they are absorbed more slowly, which can lead to stomach trouble. By means of training and participating in competitions of little importance, each athlete should experiment with these drinks and find the one that makes him tick. In my case, for example, during triathlons and half marathons, it works to drink half a glass of isotonic drinks every 20 minutes and one glass 15-20 minutes before the beginning of the competition.

2. Moreover, as I already mentioned, during long-distance com-petitions, the human body does not only use glycogen, but also fat and proteins for the production of energy; albeit in smaller amounts, especially towards the end of the race. Our bodies prefer the energy production from carbohydrates, since it is more efficient than that from fat (which is stored in our bodies more plentifully than carbohydrates). Apart from storing more glycogen, an endurance athlete’s body should be able to mobilize and utilize fat reserves more efficiently. In order to train your body to burn fat, you should add a weekly long-duration and low-intensity run (over 1:30 h) to your training schedule. This kind of training makes the energy production process more reliant on fat than on carbohydrates.

3. Another important factor is: as a rule, endurance athletes should have determined their tactic and the speed at which they will per-form during each race, based on their training experience. They should stick to their plan, and under no circumstances should they get carried away by faster athletes or a sense of overconfidence and increase their speed. Generally, you pay a big price for that kind of cockiness during a race, since he glycogen reserve is exhausted much faster that way. It is better to finish a race according to plan; there will be many other competitions in the future where you can go faster, if you plan it.

4. Endurance athletes have to make sure that their glycogen levels are at maximum levels on the day of he race. In order to do so, they should not tap into these reserves
during the last three days before the competition by training for hours. Their nutrition should have an increased amount of carbohydrates.

This article is a chapter of the book I have written: Triathlon: Loving it is easy.



About swimbikerun1
Devoted Father, Husband and Employee.Endurance sports fanatic (running,cycling,swimming).Triathlon athlete and coach.If only days had more than 24 hours.

11 Responses to Nutrition During Endurance Competition

  1. bgddyjim says:

    Awesome post man.

  2. bgddyjim says:

    Sent it to my wife, you’ve got one sale brother.

  3. Pingback: Nutrition During Endurance Competition | Armida Books

  4. bgddyjim says:

    Reblogged this on Fit Recovery and commented:
    Christos, a good blog friend of mine, has written a triathlon training book. This post, reblogged, is an excerpt from the book. Check it out, the man knows his stuff. And if it piques your interest, the kindle version is $10 on Amazon (my wife bought a copy).

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