Weight Loss Wednesday: Sport-Specific Nutrition

What do a power lifter and a marathoner have in common? When it comes to sports specific nutrition, the answer is- not that much. Last week we learned the basics of pre- and post-workout nutrition. Now, we’re going to get a little more in-depth and discuss the differences in nutrition needs between endurance and power sports.  Let’s dig in.

     When it comes to nutrition, the type of sport you’re into can really make a difference. For example, if you’re a power lifter, supplementing with creatine can increase your strength by 10%, and help you get that edge to reach your PR. If you’re a marathoner, on the other hand, taking creatine wont do anything for you, unless you count needlessly draining your wallet- science says it doesn’t really make a difference in endurance athletic performance.



   So why do different sports need different nutrition?  After all, exercise is exercise, right? Both powerlifting and running burn calories, so shouldn’t they call for the same sort of fuel to refill the tank?  Well, yeah, but it’s not that simple.  Without getting too clinical, lets just say that endurance sports like distance running and power sports, like power lifting both draw on different energy systems within the body. Think of them as two separate types of engines: like a motorcycle and a diesel truck. Both engines are high performance machines that, when properly fueled, are capable of amazing things, but you’d never think that you ‘d get top performance out of that diesel truck if you filled it with the unleaded meant for the motorcycle or vice versa. The fuel types that both require are similar, but aren’t really interchangeable. Why? The engines simply aren’t built the same.


Endurance= higher carbs

Endurance= higher carbs

Ok, so back to food. Due to the fact that they have to perform for longer time periods, runners and other endurance athletes tend to need more carbs than their power sport buddies, and should consume about 8-10 g of high quality carb per kg of body weight. For a 165# marathoner, this would translate to between 600-750g carbs daily, if they’re in their competitive season, when daily training can reach over 90 min. daily.  In contrast, the power lifter would only need to eat only half the amount of carbs only 5-6g daily per kg of body weight or 300-375g total per day.


     On the other hand, power lifters and other strength athletes need way more protein than their lanky endurance buddies do. If we go back to our 165# athlete as an example, he’d need a minimum of 60g protein normal training conditions. In contrast, at peak lifting volumes a strength athlete of the same weight might need almost double the amount of the endurance athlete at 127g per day, that’s about eight 3 oz. portions daily.


With these extremes in mind, most of us don’t fall neatly into one category or another and incorporate both strength and endurance elements in our training programs. Therefore, most of us can stay to the middle of the road for both protein and carbs- about 1.5-2.0g/kg per day of protein and 5-7g/kg per day of carbs. Confused? Don’t be. These numbers are only a guide. Use your head.  If you skip your run, cut your carbs. Decide to take an extra spin class to support a friend? Don’t feel guilty if you feel like an extra helping of sweet potatoes later.  Still confused? Ask your friendly neighborhood dietitian for help.  I happen to know a girl…