Five Things to Know About Fueling Your Body For Endurance Sports

Aug. 15, 2019

Abigail Peairs, PhD, explains the five things you should know about fueling your body for endurance sports.

Dr. Peairs, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Allied Health Sciences, has extensive knowledge on diet and nutrition for the human body.

1. Make sure you’re eating properly.

Your training diet is essential to keeping your body fueled. During an endurance sport like tennis, you’ll exert a lot of energy over a long period of time, so you have to make sure you have enough fuel storage. Athletes need to get the right balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein. Carbohydrates will need to be the predominant part of the diet. Protein will be used to rebuild muscle tissue. You don’t want to take in too much fat or fiber around the events, as neither will be as digestible.

2. Do only light exercise prior to the event.

On the evening before the event, do only light activity and don’t overwork your body. Eat things you know are digestible and stock up on carbohydrates. Keep your diet consistent with things you’re comfortable with. On the morning of the event, eat a proper breakfast and give yourself adequate time to digest it. You won’t want a lot of blood around the digestive system close to or during the event, you also want to have some of that fuel ready to use.

3. Stay hydrated before, during and after the match.

Safe and adequate hydration is crucial. Water needs to be consumed before and throughout the course of competition. For the average person, water might be enough, but if you’ll be competing often in endurance sports, you’ll likely also need fuel and electrolytes. Drinking Gatorade, or combining water with snacks like bananas or pretzels, will help you recover lost electrolytes. While they may seem healthier, low sugar Gatorades won’t be as effective during endurance sports because they won’t have the same amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes that your body will need. You need the extra sugar when you are out there for an extended period of time.

4. Replace used fuel, especially if you’re gearing up for another match.

You need to rebuild your fuel stores quickly in between matches. Maybe have a liquid meal to get carbohydrates and protein, then have a solid meal later. The diet needs to continue to focus on high carbohydrates with a decent amount of protein, but not a lot of fat. Leading up to the next match, you’ll want to again scale back on higher fats and fibers.

5. If you aren’t sure about something, ask a registered dietitian nutritionist or a nutrition professor.

After the tournament, you’ll want to maintain energy balance and maintain your weight while continuing to train. Registered dietitians can help with individualized meal plans and weight maintenance. You’ll need a high quality diet both during training and during the off season, but you’ll be able to eat more high fiber foods and healthy fats when you aren’t competing the same day. A dietitian can also help you adjust your diet based on how you feel. For example, you may have to change your diet if you’re feeling sluggish or just not recovering after competition. A big focus for athletes during the off-season is education on diet quality and general nutritional needs. Sports dietitians and nutrition professors can help with that to make sure you’re ready for the next competition