Whether you want to tack a few more miles onto your next long run or outlast every other lifter in the weight room, long-haul exercise efforts require two things: a heckuva lot of mental grit and, of course, the right fuel. Though the saying may go that “your mind will quit before your body does,” that’s only true if you’ve got enough gas in the tank for your muscles to last as long as your laser focus.
As any marathoner or bodybuilder will tell you: Your supplement and nutrition game before, during, and after long, intense training sessions can make the difference between setting a new PR (or achieving that peak physique) and falling flat. If you want your body to go the distance, nailing your endurance fuel routine is non-negotiable.
Not sure where to start? Figuring out your personal sweet spot takes experimentation (just ask any exerciser who’s had to make a beeline for the bathroom mid-workout because of something they ate or drank), but it’s pretty much guaranteed that the following sports supplements will be a part of your lineup. Here’s what to know about them.
Electrolytes are pretty much nonnegotiable for anyone exercising for extended periods of time. “Electrolytes are required for many body processes, including conducting nerve impulses, contracting muscles, and regulating fluid balance,” explains The Vitamin Shoppe nutritionist Brittany Michels, R.D.N., L.D.N., C.P.T. “We lose electrolytes through sweat, so replacing these nutrients becomes vital during long bouts of exercise.”
Since we can lose up to 500 milligrams of sodium per cup of sweat we produce, it’s the top priority for any endurance athlete, according to Michels. Beyond that, we lose the most chloride, then potassium, then magnesium, and then finally calcium.
While the thought of loading up on salt might not sound like the healthiest thing to do, in this case, it is! Michels recommends looking for an electrolyte formula that contains between a 2:1 and 3:1 ratio of sodium to potassium. A couple of solid options: XTEND Healthy Hydration powder and Liquid IV Hydration Multiplier Electrolyte Drink Mix.
The branched-chain amino acids (which are leucine, isoleucine, and valine) are famous for their roles in muscle performance and recovery. Instead of being processed in the liver like other amino acids, the BCAAs skip that step and make a beeline for your muscles, where they jumpstart the process of building muscle (called muscle protein synthesis) and can even help produce cellular energy to keep your body firing on all cylinders. You need them to support healthy muscle contractions, says Dr. Jacob Wilson, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., CEO of The Applied Science and Performance Institute and member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council.
Since our body can’t produce the BCAAs on its own and because they become depleted during longer bouts of exercise, athletes need to restock their bodies on these important aminos in order to continue performing and to recover properly, suggests Michels.
Your move: Plan to incorporate three to five grams of BCAAs into your endurance fueling plan, Wilson recommends. Check out BodyTech BCAAs + Glutamine powder, which provides four grams of the BCAAs plus two grams of glutamine, an amino acid known to help ward off muscle breakdown.
This will come as no surprise to long-distance devotees, but carbs are a must if you want to keep truckin’ without hitting the wall. “Our quickest energy source is carbohydrates so, naturally, most endurance athletes use a carbohydrate fueling method,” Michels explains. “The general rule of thumb is that athletes need between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour after 60 to 90 minutes of exercise.” While you could pack actual food with you, many athletes opt for drink powders, gels, chews, and other supplements specifically formulated to provide the energy endurance fanatics need when they’re going, going, going.
Read More: 5 Signs You Need To Eat More Carbs
Michels recommends trying out a few different options in order to figure out what gives you maximum energy with minimum digestive upset. A few of her go-to’s: HD Muscle CarbHD Performance + Recovery powder, GU Energy Gels, and Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews.
Of course, every endurance enthusiast will have a fueling routine unique to their personal health needs, goals, and training routine—but electrolytes, BCAAs, and carbohydrates really are the pillars of a well-rounded regimen. If you’re just getting started with endurance training or aren’t seeing the results you want despite putting in the miles, consider checking in with a credentialed nutritionist, who can take stock of your current training and fueling plan and suggest any tweaks that might help you go the distance.