Essential Nutrients for Endurance Athletes

Essential Nutrients for Endurance Athletes

Athletes demand more from their bodies than average people. They sometimes push their bodies to the very edge and this kind of “superhuman” abilities do not just come out of thin air. They take years of training but more so discipline in their diet. After all, we are what we eat. Any diet plan for an endurance athlete is designed to achieve two important goals. First, it will deliver excellent strength and performance for the body. Secondly, such a diet will also be crucial in aiding recovery after extraneous activities. 

Athletes who participate in endurance sports or activities dispense a lot of energy. They will also lose important electrolytes including sodium, potassium, and magnesium through perspiration. Intense endurance activities may also cause significant muscle tears. These muscles must recover well in time before the next workout. Nutrition plays a key role in making sure of this. Here are some important nutrients every endurance athlete should take:


Calcium is probably one of the most important nutrients for endurance athletes.  For female athletes, in particular, intense workouts may cause hormonal changes in the body that affect bone formation. This may increase the risk of premature and irreversible osteoporosis. Intense endurance training may also cause testosterone deficits in men. Testosterone deficits have been linked with a higher risk of osteoporosis. However, regular calcium intake may help to mitigate these risk factors. On average, endurance athletes require between 1200 and 1500 mg of calcium per day.

Vitamin E

During intense workouts, cells will normally experience significant oxidative damage. Adding antioxidants like Vitamin E can help deal with this. It is important to note that, Vitamin E does not enhance athletic performance. It is used to help with muscle recovery and rest. Additionally, the amount of Vitamin E needed by an endurance athlete cannot be sourced through a regular diet. You will need regular supplementation from synthetic supplements to be able to achieve the recommended intake.


An average sedentary person needs about 60 mg of protein per day. However, for athletes engaged in both strength and endurance training, the recommended daily allowance is much higher than that. Endurance athletes use protein to maintain aerobic metabolism, the process through which your body creates energy. Naturally, the human body burns carbohydrates to generate energy.

However, during intense endurance training, it may also dig into ingested proteins to maintain optimal energy levels. If there is an inadequate supply of proteins into the diet, the body is forced to use the protein stored in lean muscle tissues. This may lead to an unwanted gaunt appearance. Additionally, low levels of proteins may inhibit muscle recovery and healing after intense workout sessions. All these factors will ultimately affect exercise performance significantly.


Magnesium is important for athletes who want to maintain high energy levels for the entire duration of their workout. Magnesium is an essential ingredient in the production of a substance called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is produced from the oxidation of fatty acids within muscle cells. The primary purpose of ATP is to store cellular energy. Without it, endurance athletes may experience early fatigue, muscle cramping, and even nausea during intense workouts. Acute magnesium deficiency may also increase the risk of osteoporosis.

The best way to get enough magnesium into the body is through proper supplements. Relying on your diet is simply not an option. There are two reasons for this. First, magnesium is lost through sweat and urine. In any intense workout, an endurance athlete will lose significant levels of magnesium through sweat. Secondly, a big percentage of athletes do not get enough magnesium in their daily diet. When you consider that these athletes are supposed to take between 500 and 800 mg of magnesium every day, supplementation is simply a must.


The human body burns carbohydrates to generate energy. In the same way gasoline powers a sports car, carbohydrates are designed to power our bodies. For an endurance athlete, high energy levels are extremely crucial. A single gram of carbohydrates contains up to 4 calories of energy.  Carbohydrates are converted and stored in the human body as glycogen which is stored both in the liver and in the muscles.

When the body detects low glycogen levels in the blood, it releases some from its storage reserves to balance blood sugar. This process is essential in maintaining optimal muscle performance. Additionally, if there are not enough carbohydrates to produce energy during a workout session, the body may be forced to break down lean protein tissue. This is not ideal.


This one is a little self-explanatory but since it is extremely important, it is worth stressing out. Water is the vessel through which all biochemical reactions occur in the body. Endurance athletes will naturally lose a lot of water through sweat. Rehydrating regularly ensures important bodily functions remain at optimal levels. Water may also help to lubricate muscles and joints. It will also help to maintain a favorable core body temperature which will enhance overall exercise performance.

Endurance athletes need more nutrients than the average sedentary person. Failure to get enough allocations of these nutrients may have massive negative implications on exercise performance and overall health. Even though in some cases it may not be possible to get these nutrients through diet, using supplementation is still a great alternative.