If you’re logging extra miles or laps training for an endurance event, you might find your body is also craving a lot more food at meal times, or anytime really. Eating healthy without breaking the bank while training for endurance sports can be a challenge, but experts say having more calories to play with each day allows for more creativity and more delicious meals.
“When you’re in training you need enough protein to repair and rebuild your muscles,” says Monique Ryan, Sports Dietitian and owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, LLC in Evanston. “But you also need to match up your carbohydrates to that day’s training.”
On a long run or bike ride day, that could mean eating four grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. Those calories could come from sports gels or drinks, snacks, or meals filled with starchy vegetables and healthy fats. “It’s all about restoring and replenishing a really important body fuel called muscle glycogen,” Ryan adds.
Julie Burns, Founder and CEO of SportFuel, Inc., says endurance sports are tough on the body, so the food you put in is even more important.
“The body is put in this constant state of break down and inflammation. You’ve got to build it up with all the nutrients and antioxidants you can get your hands on. This means lots of colorful vegetables and dark-colored fruits, like berries. High quality supplements can also help put out that inflammatory fire,” Burns says.
Admittedly, adding a few hundred, or thousand, extra calories to your day can also add costs to your grocery bill though.
Ryan suggests inexpensive sources of starch and carbohydrate like dried peas, beans, lentils, or whole grain rice that can provide a hearty base to a meal. Burns adds sweet potatoes, beats, parsnips, and rutabaga to that list.
While it can be helpful to add lean chicken, fish, or other meat to those hearty meals, Burns said keeping protein to six to 10 ounces a day and supporting meals with those rich carbohydrates is another way to keep costs down. And although a splurge after a 20-mile run can be tempting, and fine once in a while, Burns says it’s not a habit you should rely on for banking those extra calories.
“We’ve all heard athletes say that they’ve “earned” <insert junk food here> or that they can afford to have whatever junk they want to eat because they burn it off. It’s not all about calories in versus out; it’s also about the quality of fuel you allow into your high-performance machine,” she explains. “It’s because you are a high-performing athlete that you deserve the highest quality fuels. Bagels, ice cream and pancakes aren’t going to cut it.”
Filling up on more calories to fuel your body while you train for endurance events can get expensive, but Ryan says athletes should look at it as an investment in their health.She also encourages budgeting ahead, on your own or with a professional dietitian to outline a meal plan that fits both your budget and your diet needs. Write out your meals, prep in advance, eat leftovers, and make sure you aren’t caught hungry mid-day without any healthy snacks around you.
“Eating healthy is more expensive than what?” Ryan asks. “Is it more expensive than eating junk food? But what are the costs of that? I see a lot of people eating out or ordering in, which is more expensive then eating at home.”