Physical endurance is important for athletes, but it also affects everyday tasks. If you’ve ever felt your mind spinning after housework or gentle physical activity, it could be a sign that your tolerance levels are low.
Sports nutritionist Marie A. Spano, RD, CSCS, CSSD explains: “Endurance refers to the ability to maintain a certain activity for a long time.” Endurance is important for athletes because those with higher endurance can train or compete for longer periods of time.”
But even if you’re not an athlete, endurance is still important. Spano says: “If you’re walking around a new city, enjoying an entertaining tennis match or playing handball, then higher endurance means you can be active for longer periods of time.
There are a few factors that affect your endurance, and diet is one of them. Some nutrients support endurance while others can interfere with it.
Iron is a particularly important nutrient when it comes to improving endurance. In the body, iron is involved in energy metabolism, oxygen transport, and acid-base balance, which is especially important for endurance athletes, according to a September 2014 study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism.
According to a february 2019 clinical trial in the Journal of Nutrition.
Similarly, low iron levels have been shown to have a negative effect on endurance and performance time in athletes, according to a December 2011 study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Metabolic Exercise.
According to experts, the best food for endurance is the source of iron and other nutrients that your body needs to maintain energy. Check them out below.
The 5 best foods for endurance
1. Whole grains
Oats are a staple food in the diet of many endurance athletes, especially runners. That’s because whole grains like oats are a source of complex carbohydrates, which are beneficial for endurance because they provide a steady source of energy and help you feel full in the long run.
“Carbs are our number one source of energy for increasing endurance, and they’re one of my top recommendations,” Spano said. “In particular, complex carbs are digested slowly and provide long-term energy. Most of the carbs you eat should come from these foods. Steel-cut oats are a great example.”
A quarter cup of steel-cut oats provides 10% of the daily requirement for iron as well as 5 grams of protein, according to the USDA.
Other examples of whole grains include:
Beetroot and beetroot juice are full of nutrients that can boost endurance, which explains why some athletes add beets or beetroot powder before a workout.
“Drinking beetroot juice has been shown to have a number of benefits to athletic achievement,” said strength and condition coach Andy Page, ASCC CSCS. “It is rich in nitrates, which increases nitric oxide levels in the blood and has been linked to improved oxygen transport in the blood, improved lung function and enhanced muscle contraction.”
Dietary nitrates in beetroot juice have been shown to improve endurance workout performance, according to an August 2018 review in the Annual Review of Nutrition.
Cooked beets also provide 7% of your daily iron intake per cup, according to the USDA.
3. Protein-rich foods
Before a workout, complex carbs provide energy, which is essential for endurance levels — but protein is important in a different way.
Lily Chapman, sports and exercise nutrition coach at P3rform, said: “Although protein is often associated with resistance training, eating enough protein after endurance training is equally important.
“Prolonged endurance training sessions can cause major changes in muscles – depleted fuel reserves, damaged protein structures, and waste build-up. Protein is needed to repair and refresh these structures.”
Chapman recommends adding about 0.3 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight per meal to help support muscle building and recovery.
Some of the best protein sources include:
6 ounces of lean chicken breast provides you with 54.5 grams of protein and 5% of your daily iron needs, according to the USDA. For a protein source with more iron, try dress steak – 6 ounces provides 52%, according to the USDA.
Like whole grains, legumes are an excellent source of complex carbs. They are also an excellent source of protein, especially for vegetarians and vegetarians. Carbs in legumes provide you with sustainable energy while protein helps build muscle mass and support recovery.
Many legumes are also particularly rich in iron. For example, large white beans are an impressive source. They provide 37% of your daily value and 17.4 grams of protein per cup, according to the USDA.
5. Dried fruit
According to the Cleveland Clinic, dried fruits such as figs, dates, raisins and apricots are high in iron.
Dried fruits are another source of nitrates in the diet (just like in beets), which help support endurance activity, according to a June 2020 review in the journal Nutrients.
Just make sure you’re paying attention to your rations when snacking on dried fruit, as many are high in sugar.
3 foods to limit for better endurance
If you’re trying to improve your endurance, it’s best to avoid these foods just before your workout.
Alcohol is not a nutrient-rich option, but it may be suitable for a moderately balanced diet. That being said, it’s not the best choice right before a workout or long periods of physical activity.
Spano explains why: “Although a very small amount of alcohol may have no effect, larger amounts have shown a reduced endurance effect by reducing power output. It also has a diuretic effect. This can contribute to dehydration, which can reduce endurance, especially in heat.”
Before an event or endurance workout, Spano instead recommends sipping water or sports drinks. Even caffeine can support endurance levels.
2. High-fiber foods
Fiber is an essential nutrient that has many health benefits and it is a nutrient that many Americans are lacking. Prioritizing fiber in your diet is important, maybe not before endurance workouts.
“High-fiber foods during endurance training should be carefully considered,” Chapman said. Foods rich in fiber, such as vegetables, digest very slowly and long in the digestive tract. Eating them before exercising can lead to stomach pain, which will interfere with your performance.”
3. High-fat foods
Healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds and olive oil are beneficial for overall health and are necessary for good nutrition. While it’s important to have them in your diet, they’re not the ideal source of energy for endurance training.
Spano says: “Although some fat is used during exercise, it is a slow source of fuel. “Relying primarily on dietary fat will cause you to slow down and reduce your performance.” You especially want to avoid fried foods before exercising.