What are the most important nutrients endurance athletes need in their diet?

Nutritionist Stephen Smith explains the most important nutrients endurance athletes need to include in their diet for maximum performance

What are the most important nutrients endurance athletes need in their diet?

Firstly, it’s very important that athletes consume a balanced diet which includes all of the macronutrients, namely protein, fat and carbohydrate. Foods high in protein, such as meats, fish, eggs, dairy or vegan-friendly sources such as tofu, chickpeas or soy products, are essential for a long list of metabolic processes and recovery following exercise.

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Fats are essential for processes such as hormone health and transporting nutrients around the body, while carbohydrates are important for fuelling high-intensity exercise and immune health.

However, these foods don’t only contain protein, fat or carbohydrate, they contain a wide range of vitamins and minerals which contribute to optimal bodily function.

Iron is one nutrient of particular importance to athletes as it supports blood health and transports oxygen around the body. Athletes are also at a higher risk of iron deficiency than the general population due to the mechanisms in which iron is lost from the body, e.g. sweating, blood loss in the gut from the mechanical jarring during running, the breakdown of blood cells in the feet from foot-striking, and, for female athletes, menstruation.

So athletes should aim for 2-3 servings of iron-rich foods per day, examples include: liver, beef, sardines or salmon, lentils, nuts, seeds, wholegrain cereals, such as oats or muesli, and green leafy vegetables, such as kale. 

Stephen Smith is an experienced performance nutritionist who believes in a food first, evidence-informed approach to maximising the health and performance of athletes. He is a nutritionist to motorsport, combat and endurance sport athletes  and  owner of Premier Wellness UK

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