Best Diet for Endurance Athletes?

The standard warnings about sugar intake don't necessarily apply to athletes.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
1-minute read

Best Diet for Endurance Athletes?

by Monica Reinagel, M.S., L.D./N.

Q. I do marathons and triathlons. In your podcast, you always recommend staying away from too many carbohydrates but I know my nutritional needs are different during training. Do you have some pointers for endurance athletes?

Q. Does the Paleo diet work for long distance runners? Can it improve performance or do runners run better on a high-carb diet?

A. My standard warnings about sugar intake don’t necessarily apply to athletes. Although sugar has mostly harmful effects on a sedentary body, the body metabolizes sugar very differently during and after intense exercise.

Indeed, the traditional advice for endurance athletes is to load up on carbohydrates. Strategies include “carbo loading” before long events as well as using simple carbohydrates (i.e., sugar) during and immediately after endurance events to replenish spent muscles. There are legions of runners who swear by this approach. However, a growing number of endurance athletes are experimenting with low- or no-carb regimens. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance is one well-regarded guide to low-carb performance nutrition.

You will find equally ardent supporters (and detractors) on both sides of this debate. And, frankly, because endurance sports are not my cup of tea, I have no personal experience to offer. But even if I did, I think this is one of those situations where one size does not fit all. The question is not whether one approach is empirically “better,” but whether one or the other works better for you.

Food sources of complex carbohydrates from Shutterstock

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.