With the ever-increasing popularity of endurance sports like triathlons, marathons, and long-distance cycling, a growing need for well-advised nutrition strategies is a sought-after commodity. For newcomers and veterans alike, a sound nutrition plan is a vital piece of the working wheel needed to enhance athletic performance both on and off-road. And one of the biggest obstacles facing any endurance athlete is the mountain known as fatigue.

So isn’t fatigue just a matter of getting tired?

Yeah, sure it is. And a lot of people will use the logical route and say that to beat fatigue you just need to train more and become fitter. Again, this is true but there’s much more to it.

According to a study by A.E. Jeukendrup, fatigue during prolonged exercise is often associated with muscle glycogen depletion and reduced blood glucose concentrations. Even though it’s not limited to only this factor, pre-activity muscle and glycogen must be at optimal levels for performance to be executed at their best.

Another key factor that severely impairs performance output is dehydration. So the idea here is to ensure that your nutrition is in line as well as to ensure that dehydration is prevented. This would consequently avoid or postpone the onset of fatigue. This recommendation is purported by the recent set of guidelines proposed by the American College of Sports Medicine. The guidelines state that dehydration of more than 2–3% of body weight should be prevented but also warns against drinking in excess of sweating rate.

So basically eat a lot of carbs and drink plenty of water right?

Well, this depends on the individual (how well trained they are. In other words, veteran athletes vs novice/newbie athletes) and the amount of time that they’ll spend on the activity. A common practice for athletes is to super compensate muscle glycogen (i.e. eat a ton of carbohydrates). This practice has been shown to yield little to no performance benefits for any activity lasting less than approximately 90 minutes.

A recommended amount of carb intake for endurance athletes is to get in about 5 to 12 g per kg a day (obviously, the value used would vary depending on the athlete, the activity and its duration). 

Please keep in mind that even if a higher carbohydrate intake will achieve higher glycogen stores, better performance might not always occur as a result. An example of this is that in one study by Coyle et al. 2001, an increase in carbohydrate consumption from 10g per kg to almost 13g per kg did increase muscle glycogen stores BUT this increase resulted in no positive or improved effect on endurance performance.

As for fluid consumption, a recommended intake prior to exercise would be for the individual to slowly drink liquids in the amount of 5–7 ml per kg of body weight at least 4 hours before the said physical activity. If the athlete “does not produce urine, or the urine is dark or highly concentrated, the athlete should slowly drink more beverages (for example, another 3–5 ml per kg) about 2 hours before the event’’ 

Following a simple fluid intake strategy like this will greatly improve your chances of preventing dehydration, fatigue and, subsequently, aid in benefiting overall endurance performance.

In summary, be diligent in preparing meals and tracking your fluid intake. Preparations made in these regards will make a night and day difference to your output and outcomes. By following the aforementioned guidelines to carbohydrate and liquid intake, you maximize on key factors that result in exponentially maximizing your performance, beating fatigue and overcoming a tumultuous amount obstacles that stand between you and excellence in your long-distance sports

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