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By Marni Rakes, MS, ISSN
During long training sessions (2+ hours), key factors which contribute to an impaired performance include an inadequate intake of carbohydrates before training, incorrect timing of daily meals/snacks, poor recovery nutrition and not enough calories prior to training.
If a workout is more than an hour, your primary concern for pre-training nutrition is having enough fuel in your body to maximize performance and prevent fatigue. Never neglect the value of waking up a little early before training in order to properly fuel for the workout. A small snack before a long workout will help prevent low blood sugar which may contribute to low energy levels. Foods eaten before prolonged workouts should be high in carbohydrates and low on the glycemic index.
These guidelines assume that the athlete does their long workouts on the weekends in the morning. If your long workout is later in the day, the guidelines will still apply.
Depending on the intensity and duration of the workout, total calories before training will differ among athletes.
Pre-training nutrition guidelines:
High carbohydrate – Fuel muscles and prevent depletion of glycogen stores.Examples: Oatmeal, whole grain bread, bagel, ripe fruit, whole grain cereal, sports bar, graham cracker, rice cake, low-fat waffle.If working out in the afternoon/evening also try low-fiber veggies, potatoes, rice, pasta, thin crust pizza or any of the above.
Low in fat and protein – Prevent rise in blood sugar and support fullness. Examples: Soy/skim milk, egg whites, peanut butter, nuts, reduced fat cheese, low sugar jelly.If working out in the afternoon/evening also try low-sugar yogurt, lean meat/veggie meat, tofu, cottage cheese.
Avoid high sugar foods – May cause fluctuations in blood sugar.Examples: High sugar fruit juices, high fructose corn syrup, sugary cereal, enriched/simple sugar products (white bread, sugary coffee drinks, pastries)
Avoid fatty foods – Slow/hard to digest and potential stomach upset.Examples: Fatty cheeses, milk, meat, packaged/frozen breakfast foods, donuts/cookies.
Drink plenty of fluids – Avoid dehydration and maintain electrolyte status.Examples: Water, coffee or tea (not as primary fluid source), diluted sports drinks, low-sugar fruit drinks.
Drink 16-20 ounces water (or diluted sports drink) at least 30 minutes prior to workout.
2-3 hour workout: Eat 45 minutes prior to workout. 250-325 calories.
3-4 hour workout: Eat 1 hour prior to workout. 300-375 calories.
4+ hour workout: Eat 1 ½ hours – 2 hours prior to workout. 350-400 calories. *Calories depend on body size, training intensity and experience.
Key notes for pre-training:
*Allow time to properly digest foods. *Foods should be readily available and convenient. *Foods should be easy to digest, wholesome and healthy. *Prioritize carbohydrates. Add a little protein and fat for fullness.