By Breanne Nalder Harward, MS, RDN — As promised in the last article on macros (or macronutrients), I’m now going to discuss specific foods to choose to properly fuel your body—to put the appropriate gas in the tank for any given day.
As a reminder, macronutrients are the three categories of food—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—that differ in how the body uses them for fueel. Knowing the proper ratios of macronutrients for your diet is crucial to a successful healthy meal plan.
Macro ratios on a rest day should be different than they are for a 60 minute “power hour” or a day that we ride a 5+ hour century.
Sport nutrition science indicates that endurance athletes need 50-65% of total calories to come from carbohydrates, 20-30% from fats, and 15-25% from protein, which are pretty broad ranges. On lighter days or rest days you want to keep your carb intake closer to 50%, allowing for more healthy fats and proteins, but on those big days, keep your engine running strong with the energy it needs to go fast and feel good!
In previous articles I’ve discussed using supplements to accomplish proper ratios around workouts, so this time it’s all about real food. Enjoy some recipes to go along with the explanations below, and don’t be shy about contacting me for more!
Before training, racing, or any type of exercise, we need carbs for energy and to fuel our muscles. This goes against a lot of the diet fads nowadays, but the truth lies in the science, and we’re talking performance here! Protein is difficult to digest during exercise and can lead to gastrointestinal upset, which can negatively impact your performance. Focus on carbs when you need them: before and during exercise. Your “off the bike” fuel is when you should keep things low carb, low sugar, and get food fiber, healthy fats, and proteins. That’s how to keep macros in check!
These energy bites are easy to carry and provide all the nutrients you need to keep your engine burning strong.
Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Overnight Oats
Prep this recipe the night before, store it in the fridge, and enjoy 1-2 hours before strength training.
- 1 cup oats
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup plain pumpkin puree
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp chia seeds
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp ginger
- Optional toppings: 1/8 cup of blackberries, 1/8 cup of dried cranberries, 2 dates chopped, or sprinkle of unsweetened shredded coconut or cinnamon to taste
- Mix together water, pumpkin puree, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.
- Stir the packet of oatmeal, chia seeds, and spices into the bowl.
- Pour everything into an airtight container, place in fridge for 4 hours or overnight, and enjoy!
Fuel for During Endurance Exercise
As discussed in great length in previous articles, carbohydrates are the primary source of energy during high intensity activity by providing the fuel that your muscles need to sustain a fast pace. Try to get most of your carbohydrates from whole grains for energy levels and overall health.
Choosing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains over refined products provides optimal fuel for the muscles and provide beneficial nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and can add to your daily protein intake. In short, carbs are your friends! You simply need to know how to incorporate them around exercise to keep your macro balance in check.
By definition, endurance is continuous efforts lasting greater than one hour. Hydration and electrolytes are also very important to consume throughout endurance exercise. When exercise exceeds one hour, aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. There are multiple ways to get those carbs through products like sports drinks, gels, and chews.
However, if you prefer real food during exercise, check out the whole-food energy bites below that incorporate whole grains and another trusty carbohydrate source, dates. These can help keep your energy levels up so you can crush your next workout or event. For most, one energy bite paired with 12 oz of water combined with a scoop of an electrolyte/carbohydrate mix will do the trick for fueling each hour of endurance training or racing.
RECIPE: Cinnamon Date Energy Bites
Servings: 20 bites
- 1 cup oats
- cinnamon to taste
- 1.5 packed cups Medjool dates, pitted and soaked
- 2 Tbsp warm water
- Add all ingredients to food processor and blend until thick dough created.
- Add in more water to make texture sticker as needed.
- Chill in fridge to set for 10 minutes.
- Roll into 20 energy bites and store in fridge for up to 2 weeks, pack in small bag as fuel during race.
Post Workout Recovery Food
Now is when we care about protein! Remember that protein is not fuel for our muscles, but that we use the amino acids to rebuild the muscle fibers that are torn down during workouts. Aim for a 3:1 carb:protein ratio in your recovery within 30 minutes of exercise. Here is a fun example using real food. If you don’t have time, you can prep it before and bring with or there’s always the pre-made recovery shakes. They are available in plant-based or whey-based formulas, so everyone can benefit from them. Quality products are basically real food dehydrated into a powder, so take advantage of the importance of proper recovery!
Recipe: Savory Rainbow Pancakes
Makes three 4” Pancakes
- 1 cup Oat based “Flapjack” Mix
- 1 cup of milk (or milk alternative of choice)
- 1 tsp of turmeric
- 1 tsp of curry powder
- 4 stalks of green onions, chopped
- 1 cup of shredded rainbow carrots
- 1/2 cup of shitake or cremini mushrooms, chopped
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
- Prepare all vegetables.
- In a large bowl whisk the pancake mix, milk, turmeric, and curry together until well-combined.
- Grease pan with 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over low-medium.
- Grab a portion of the prepared veggies and place on the pan to form a 4” circle or the size of one pancake.
- Allow veggies to cook for 2 minutes, then pour 1/4 cup of batter over them and spread batter out to evenly cover.
- Let cook for 1 minute or until small bubbles start to form.
- Flip and continue to for another 1-2 minutes until pancake is golden brown.
- Continue this process until all 4 servings are made.
- Optional: top with over easy or scrambled eggs, slices of avocado, or a dollop of cilantro- lime Greek yogurt sauce.
Cilantro-Lime Yogurt Sauce:
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt or coconut yogurt
- 2 Tbsp of lime juice
- 1 Tbsp of lime zest
- 1/2 Tbsp of cilantro
- 1/4 tsp of cumin
- Mix all ingredients, adjust lime juice + spice to taste, and serve.
All these recipes and explanations took up more than I intended, so I didn’t even get to the other topic I promised: plant-based nutrition for athletes. Stay tuned for next time if you want to learn more about using real food to reach your goals. In the meantime, check out my websites and contact me if you want to dig into your individual nutrition needs for optional performance!
Breanne Nalder Harward, MS, RDN, earned a BS in Biology and Sociology from Westminster College and went on to receive a Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Sports Dietetics from the University of Utah. She is licensed as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and is the nutrition coach at PLAN7 Endurance Coaching and Utah Sports and Wellness. You can find more info on her at plan7coaching.com and utahsportsandwellness.com or follow her on social media @breezysaycheezy.