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Nutrition for Endurance Versus HIIT Events

Where nutrition is concerned, there are lots of factors to consider when you’re getting ready for a sporting event or competition. Being well prepared is crucial for performance and overall health, so we spoke to Kira Sutherland about her top tips.

The type of fuel you need depends on the sport you’re participating in including whether it’s endurance or high intensity. Plus, take into account the duration of the competition whether it’s a single event or multiple events and the length of time between races.

Endurance events explained
Endurance events are just that - a long, continuous activity that can last from two hours to 24 or more. Because of the constant state of motion, much of the event will be done below your anaerobic threshold (although small periods spent above it). When functioning below threshold, the body is predominantly working aerobically and can burn carbohydrates, fats and a small amount of protein as fuel. During anaerobic periods, the body relies on carbohydrates and glycogen stores. Here’s a simple list of nutritional factors to consider depending on the event you’re participating in.

Fuelling endurance events
Fuelling depends on the length of the event. Here’s my tips based on event duration:

  • One hour or less: you only need water or a few sips of a sports drink if desired.
  • Two to three hours: consumption of carbohydrate at approximately 20-30 grams per hour should be sufficient.
  • More than four hours: consistent fuelling strategy; between 60-90 grams carbohydrate per hour is recommended.

Tip

  • Practice the timing of fuel intake during training.
  • You will need adequate fluid when you consume carbohydrate for fast absorption of both fluid and fuel.
  • You may choose to consume a small amount of protein as well as carbohydrate during longer events. Ratios of 4:1 carbs to protein are a good choice when you’re consuming large amounts of carbohydrate.

HIIT events explained
High Intensity Interval Training is exactly how it sounds. Short bursts (interval) of high intensity activity with periods of rest in between. The goal on competition day is to arrive with sufficient glycogen stores from breakfast as well as those built-up before competition.

Fuelling HIIT events:

  • Before event day: practice the kinds of foods you’ll be using to fuel your body - these must be palatable plus fast and easy to digest because nerves and stress may be high.
  • On event day: small meals to keep glycogen levels topped up as well as stabilising blood glucose levels.
  • 30 minutes prior to event: small amounts of fast-digesting carbohydrate (20-30 grams) to provide fuel during the competition.

Base in between events a ratio of 4:1 carbs to protein is a good starting point to base snacks on for digestive comfort and sustained energy.

Tip:

  • Protein/carb drinks can be a great way to fuel your body without stressing the digestive system.
  • If you have more than one to two hours between events, think about eating a small meal. If you only have 30 minutes between events, focus your needs on carbohydrates that absorb fast such as a sports drink or high GI foods.
  • Many HIIT events don’t rapidly deplete glycogen stores as they are only one to two minutes long per event. Here, the goal is to keep glycogen synthesis active during the day but not to overeat and potentially cause gastrointestinal stress.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if your event is endurance or high intensity; the key is to have pre-planned and trialled your nutrition on a race/training simulation. This way, you’ll know that your digestive system will be able to handle what you’re planning to use. If you don’t want to depend on what's available at the race venue bring your own food and drinks with you. Otherwise, you may be left with choices that don’t suit your body or digestion!