Health, Nutrition, Podcast

Endurance Sports Nutrition with Monique Ryan | EP#99

 February 5, 2018

By  Mikael Eriksson

Endurance Sports Nutrition with Monique Ryan | EP#99

Monique Ryan is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), author of the book "Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes", and has been a member of the Performance Enhancement Team for both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling. She has a wealth of experience from working with both age-groupers and elites at the very top. 

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In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Common mistakes endurance athletes make with their nutrition (over the things we already know about not eating enough veggies and too much processed food...).
  • Is there a place for "labelled" or "named" diets in endurance sports nutrition.
  • Hydration - do we drink too much, too little, or just right?
  • Supplements and deficiencies in endurance athletes. 
  • Special considerations for females, masters athletes, vegetarians and vegans.

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About Monique Ryan

1:35 - 

  • Monique is a registered dietitian nutritionist.
  • She is the author of: Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, produced by Velopress, as well as three other books.
  • She has been a member of the performance enhancement team for both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling.
  • Monique has worked with both age-groupers and elites at the top level, and has 25 years of experience from endurance sports nutrition. 

Common mistakes athletes make with their nutrition

5:14 -

  • Not planning your meals ahead, or not having good food available.
  • Athletes can sometimes not appreciate how their energy requirements vary on different types of training days.
    • E.g. Energy requirements would be higher on a day where you did a long bike ride compared to an easy 45-60 minute run.
    • You might also have easier days when you can't eat as much.
  • Also under fuelling can be a problem, particularly not matching up what you need for a complete recovery.
  • People often don't determine  a fuelling and hydration plan early enough before a race - this should be started during training early in the season so you're ready when the race comes around.

Estimating your caloric and energy intake needs

7:50 - 

  • There are multipliers you can use, and sports nutritionists and sports dietitians will generally use formulas, and also gather data from the person's workouts and their daily activity.
  • My book does have multipliers for different amounts of training, how many calories/kg of body weight, that you can estimate on your own.
    • There are probably apps you can use as well but I haven't used these myself.
  • Example: If you're doing 45-75 minutes of moderate to high intensity training every day, you need 6.5-8g of carbohydrates per kilogram per day.
    • A lot of it hinges around the carbohydrate.
  • You can also have your resting metabolic rate tested.
  • Energy needs:
    • Moderate activity: 1 hour of exercise, you will need 33-37 kcal/kg.
    • High activity: 40-53 kcal/kg.
    • Very high activity: 53-63 kcal/kg.
  • It's important to consider energy needs but also how much carbohydrate you need, including what you consume before, during and after training.
    • On a really high day you may need 6.5-10g/kg but there are a lot of variations.
  • These values are consistent with the Nutrition Position Statement in Canada and the US and also with the international Olympic committee sports nutrition guidelines.
  • It's carbohydrate based because we know that's a fuel we burn during endurance training along with fat.
    • It allows the athletes to know how much to eat to make sure they have the fuel stores for training, and can replenish them for the next session.
  • In triathlon, because you do a lot of different workouts you may have less recovery time, so making sure your nutrition helps recovery is important.

"Labelled" or "named" diets

11:20 - 

  • Ketogenic diets have evolved for ultra endurance athletes particularly, and the research is still growing in this area.
    • If we can find a way to tap into fat stores and use them more exclusively in training that would have its benefits as they're somewhat unlimited.
    • I personally haven't worked with anybody who has had great success with it. From what I know it needs to be followed for months and months.
  • Athletes may have experimented with the ketogenic diet, or other diets, which is good but you need to make sure you're experimenting smartly using principles that are still going to help you with training and racing.
  • When working with age groupers either hoping to improve their age group status, or move up to their first long distance race, we may do some body composition work/fine tuning but likely won't drastically change their diet because they've already had good success up to that point.
  • Important to consider whether it's the right time in the season for diet changes, and how to do it smartly without going to extremes.
  • Doing fat burning workouts early in the season may be a more effective way to change body composition (i.e. 24 weeks before the race, not 10 weeks).
  • There isn't a lot of evidence at the moment that training without carbohydrate during long, slow distance rides changes body composition.
    • There may be some changes in the muscles, but no research has shown that it ultimately improves performance. 
  • Named diets can mean very different things to different people - e.g. paleo can mean low carb, or high protein, and generally the labels are not the most useful - they imply they have a "magic answer".

Elites compared to age groupers

17:54 - 

  • Nutrition differences between elites and age groupers depend on how the body works, how it uses fuel and how you need to use the fuel during a workout.
  • Elites have very demanding training programs and lots of different brick workouts and two a day workouts.
    • You  need to map their nutrition carefully to ensure they get all the food they need, and distinguish which workouts are important for fueling during.
    • Also elites need food readily available as they're training 30 hours a week.
    • They also need to be careful with what they eat around workouts - as dietitians we want people to eat whole food, high fiber foods but sometimes you just need what's easy to digest between sessions.


19:40 - 

  • You need to focus on daily hydration, so when you get to a training session you're not dehydrated.
  • Start the day with plenty of fluid - water, tea, coffee (we know now that caffeine isn't dehydrating), juice, milk.
    • Even yoghurt or fresh fruit will help with hydration.
  • Hydrate regularly throughout the day in preparation for training sessions. Have a water bottle at work, be aware of it.
  • Some people may sweat 2-3 litres per hour, which you can't keep up with completely during training, so starting dehydrated will not be helpful.
  • How much hydration you need depends on your body weight - a lot of our weight is fluid.
    • Checking that your urine is pale can indicate that you're well hydrated. It should look like lemonade not apple juice.
  • Age groupers need to try and be aware of their sweat rate and how much they need to rehydrate.

Nutrition testing

22:55 - 

  • I don't currently refer people for genetic tests, but I know there are some that can test if you have genes that are better at burning carbohydrates or fats.
    • However they're often geared at weightloss programs, more than athletic programs.
  • It's good to know about certain genes that require supplements, e.g. vitamin B supplements.
  • Food sensitivity testing can also be useful - particularly for someone who has GI problems, or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
    • Food sensitivities are different to allergies and include anything but an IGE reaction - they're all different kinds of immune reactions that increase inflammation in the body.
  • I also use a micronutrient test that's based here in the US which looks at micronutrient levels in the blood and the lymphocytes.
    • It gives an indication of functional ability of these nutrients and what the storage levels are in the body.
    • A lot of stressed people, or athletic people are low on a lot of different B vitamins.
      • These are used up to process energy both in training, or during physical/emotional stress.
  • It's also good for endurance athletes to know about their iron levels and whether these are adequate for oxygenation.
  • Athletes should also look at vitamin D levels using a traditional vitamin D test. We know that vitamin D receptors are in every organ in the body.
    • We also know there is a link between vitamin D and muscle strength and power, a healthy immune system, and healthy bones.
    • Even if you live near the equator we often wear sunscreen and don't always train from 10am - 2pm where you'll make the most of the vitamin D from the sun, so it's still worth getting the levels checked.
      • It may take just 15 minutes of exposure a few times a week at the right times of the year, in the right location, to make adequate vitamin D.
      • If you're going to supplement, do it wisely. Check blood levels first and re-check them after taking the supplement.
      • If you want to take the recommended daily value that's fine, but if you think you're deficient get it checked before taking higher levels.
  • It's also key to keep on top of your electrolytes, calcium, magnesium, and also sodium and potassium which aren't difficult to get in the diet.
  • If you're feeling a lot of fatigue and training really hard, a vitamin B complex wouldn't be harmful, but there are genetic tests that can tell you what form of vitamin B might be better (e.g. methylated B) because of the different ways you absorb them.
  • You can also take a basic multi vitamin, but there's so many different kinds you're better to check and get a recommendation for which to take.

GI issues during training and racing

30:44 - 

  • It's important to determine your sweat rate and look at how much fluid you can consume.
  • Pick the right sports drink, and look up what sports drink will be available on race day and practice using that, refining your protocol in training.
  • Make sure you have a sports drink with a good glucose to fructose ratio - it shouldn't be too high in fructose (2:1 ratio is usually good).
    • However some people are more sensitive to fructose.
  • Important not to over-do the carbohydrate.
    • You will need higher concentrations for Ironman distance races compared to Olympic because you require more fuel.
    • If you're adding in semi-solid or solid food, be aware if you're eating it with enough electrolyte fluid, and are you taking the right doses at the right times.
  • Plan every hour on the bike and run, what you're going to do, how much carbohydrate you're going to take, how much fluid you're going to take - and how much will come from a sports drink or from other products.
    • Must be careful with solid food as it's harder to digest.
  • If there are underlying GI issues, this must be addressed in the daily diet so that when they get to training and racing these issues have been taken care of.
    • Identify food sensitivities.
    • Take a probiotic and assessing if you might need digestive enzymes for a period of time.
    • Working on daily diet to see if you're eating properly and whether certain supplements might be beneficial.
  • GI issues in training regardless of nutrition intake may be a marker of underlying GI issues.
    • If I work with somebody and we try various different strategies and they're still having problems I'd refer them to a GI physician to have some testing done.
    • I worked with a pro years ago who had issues in either long training or racing only. She saw a GI doctor and had some tests and it turned out that she had gastro-paresis. With that information we were able to modify the plan to work better for her as we knew what the underlying issue was.

Considerations for particular populations

34:51 - 

  • Vegetarians and vegans need to understand what high quality sources of protein are, and ensuring they get enough of those high quality sources.
    • Plant sources of protein tend to be a little less concentrated per portion than animal sources.
    • Also getting a good variety of foods in the diet.
    • They may also need to supplement a little, especially vegans, with B12 and Vitamin D etc.
  • Masters athletes need to ensure they're taking good care of their bones - although this could really start at any age.
    • If they're doing more weight training, following good nutrition guidelines around building more muscle because you tend to lose a bit of muscle with age.
    • Sometimes your energy needs decrease because your metabolism isn't as fast as it used to be, and you may need to reduce it to maintain body composition. However this is usually quite individual.
  • Female athletes tend to have smaller stomachs so hydrating during a race and replacing fuel can be quite different. It also means their energy requirements may be lower than male athletes.
    • Also looking  at iron status and making sure this is an appropriate level.
  • In general it's important to individualise a nutrition plan for each athlete because its so dependent on body size and training activity.

Nutrition for recovery

37:48 - 

  • I usually recommend 1g/kg body weight of carbohydrate and anywhere from 10-15g (total) of protein.
  • For every pound of weight loss, 20-24 ounces of fluid and some sodium in the meal will help with rehydration. 
  • Recovery nutrition is about jump starting the process - you still have that whole time between this workout and the next to replenish your body.
    • In the hour after training all these processes are running at an accelerated rate and you're going to make muscle glycogen at a much faster rate than you will 2-4 hours after the session. But you still need to continue replenishing your body.
    • Triathletes often have less than 24 hours to do that. 
  • If you're going to be working out again in less than 12-18 hours it's important to get your recovery snack in quickly.
    • If it was an easy workout and you're going to do another one in 24 hours, it's not imperative. Just eating well and getting your nutrients before your next workout will be fine.
  • If you do your long run on Saturday and your long bike on Sunday, replenishing after the long run is important - you're likely to be dehydrated and need to start recovering your nutrition right away.

Rapid fire questions

41:19 - 

  • What is your favourite book, blog or resource?
    • I just rely on keeping up with research, and the researchers I respect. I often attend the American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting to keep up with all the new things that are coming out. 
    • Following researchers I respect on twitter has been a good way to keep up with them.
  • What is your favourite piece of gear or equipment?
    • Definitely my bike! I have a Fuji SL women's racing bike and I just love it.
  • What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
    • At the end of the day, planning everything I need to do the next day and mapping it all out so I'm ready to go: when I'm going to train, what I'm going to eat, what food is available, what I need to do for my business. Mapping out what I want to accomplish the night before. 

Key takeaways

  • There is no real benefit of going on a labelled diet, cutting out food groups and restricting them, for most endurance athletes.
  • It cuts out flexibility of your nutrition, which isn't really helpful.
  • Anecdotally, people don't tend to go from agnostic healthy eating to labelled diets, but usually from bad diets to labelled diets (so they cut out a lot of junk food), and then falsely accredit the positive changes to the labelled diet, rather than just general healthy eating.
  • Treat nutrition in the same way as training - have a flexible and adaptable approach with no need to label your training protocol.

Links, resources & contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with Monique Ryan

  • On her website
    • Monique can put together sports nutrition programs for anybody, anywhere - both day to day, in and around training, and also for the race event itself. Sports nutrition plans are available online and can be individualised and personalised to each athlete. 
  • Twitter: @MoniqueRyanRDN

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

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Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 

Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

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