Eat Well, Train Better

For many of us eating is a joy, a pleasurable activity to explore tastes and textures, as well as a way of socialising with friends and family.

It can also be the source of frustration when too much of a good thing means we end up putting on weight. 

We live in a society where people are perpetually on a diet in an endless quest for health and happiness.  It seems there are too many people trying to sell the idea of the perfect diet, or have quick fix answers packaged up in expensive fads.  All too often having very little science to back up their claims.  There are no quick fix answers!

Eating is also the way in which we fuel our existence for everyday activities and for sport. Without food we would not be able to function; it fuels our bodies and minds, as well as being an important aspect of aiding recovery from exercise.  And for some who struggle to put weight on the battle for a balanced healthy diet is also too real.

It’s important to find what works best for you as an individual, the following guidelines for endurance nutrition are just that – a guide suggesting a general rule of thumb.  You need to work out a plan which works for you and your unique physiology.

So how do we find the perfect balance of eating for enjoyment, health and performance, whilst leading busy lives?

Hitting the right proportions of macronutrients

Carbohydrates, proteins & fats

Current research suggests that as athletes we should be looking at eating approximately 40% carbohydrates, 30% proteins & 30% fats.

These proportions should help keep energy levels up for workouts and daily life as well as helping to aid recovery.  It’s not quite as simple as ensuring you hit this 40/30/30 balance; how much you eat and when you eat it are key to maintaining a healthy weight & to optimise performance and recovery.

The actual amount you eat each day will depend on several factors, such as your weight, the duration & intensity of a workout and how active you are generally. For less active days the amount eaten should be reduced.


According to the British Nutrition Foundation [1] the following recommendations of carbohydrate intake for endurance athletes should provide enough energy for performance, recovery and daily life.

Daily carbohydrate requirement per kg of body weight

Intensity Training Zone Carbs
Light Low intensity/ skill based
Less than an hour
Zone 1-2 3-5g
Moderate Moderate exercise programme
1 hour plus a day
Zone 2-4 5-7g
High Endurance programme
1-3 hours a day
Zone 3-5+ 6-10g
Very high Extreme commitment
4+ hours a day
Zone 2-5+


So, from this guidance, a 70kg athlete doing light activity would need 3 – 5g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight each day. In total this is 210 – 350g of carbohydrates daily.

If the same athlete were training at moderate to high intensity for 2 hours a day, they would need 6 – 10g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight, totalling 420 – 700g carbohydrates per day.


Strength and endurance athletes require between 1.2-2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for muscle repair, growth & recovery.  Again, depending on their activity levels.

Daily protein requirement per kg of body weight

Intensity Training Zone Protein
Light Low intensity / skill based
Less than an hour
Zone 1-2 1-1.2g
Moderate Moderate exercise programme
1 hour plus a day
Zone 2-4 1.2-1.4g
High Endurance programme
1-3 hours a day
Zone 3-5+ 1.4-1.7g
Very high Extreme commitment
4+ hours a day
Zone 2-5+ 1.7-2g


As with carbohydrates and proteins, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) also state [2] the amount of fats needed by the body is dependent on individual energy needs.

  • Higher energy expenditure = higher fat needs
  • Most athletes require 1g/kg/day.
  • Endurance athletes up to 2g/kg/day.
  • 20-35% of total calorie intake

Timing when you eat

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) suggest when you eat matters!

For maximum recovery, it is important to eat 20-25g of protein along with some carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes of a training session or event.

This is particularly important for female athletes as their physiology means they have an even shorter recovery window compared to men.

It seems as well as timing protein intake post exercise, it may be beneficial to time protein intake throughout the day. A study by Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. [3] looked at timing protein intake evenly across the day, as opposed to having the main source of protein at a main meal later in the day; they suggest evenly spaced protein intake increases muscle protein synthesis; a naturally occurring process in which protein is produced to repair any muscle damage caused by exercise.

Planning Meals

Just as planning is key to athletic performance success, it is also fundamental to healthy eating success, especially when trying to balance work, life & training. It may seem like a lot of effort but if you’ve planned the meals you’ll be eating for the coming week, you can make sure you have the ingredients bought and waiting to be used after a busy day.  If you try and prepare meals on an ad hoc basis you are more likely to make unhealthy choices because they often seem quicker and easier to make when you are tired. 

If at the end of a busy day and your training session is completed, you find yourself asking “what shall I eat for dinner?” then you’ve already failed to get the best from your training.

If a meal is already cooked or a quick easy meal planned you are more likely to refuel in good time whilst enjoying a home cooked nutritious meal.

So, make the most of your training; you put in a lot of effort to swim, bike, run and do strength & conditioning – don’t waste that effort by failing to plan your nutrition.

Following a simple nutrition plan will make sure you optimise your athletic performance potential!

So, what should I eat?

It’s all well and good knowing the proportions of macronutrients you may need to support your training, but how you go about choosing what to eat and when to eat can feel a little daunting.

A useful place to start might be to try and track your macros for a couple of weeks to see what you eat now and work from there.  A simple calorie tracker app such as MyFitnessPal allows you to see daily macro proportions and quantities.

In the next article I will explore macros further and look at what to eat in the typical training day of an endurance athlete.

About the author

Tina Peck holds a VTCT Level 3 Award in Nutrition for Physical Activity, plus Nutrition & Weight Management (Accredited by AFN)

Tina is an Ironman Certified Triathlon Coach, Training Peaks Certified Coach and British Triathlon Federation Diploma Qualified Coach


[1] The British Nutrition Foundation

[2] This joint position statement is authored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), Dietitians of Canada (DC), and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

[3] Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, et al. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults [published online January 29, 2014]. J Nutr. doi: 10.3945/jn.113.185280)

Image Attribution

Photo by Ola Mishchenko on Unsplash

Photo by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash

Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Photo by Ello on Unsplash

Categories: Nutrition