How to Improve Cardiovascular Endurance With Food
Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, or triathlete, many of us are looking to improve our cardio endurance. Being able to sustain energy and perform well is a common goal.
The most important part of cardio endurance is adequate training sessions. And not just traditional cardio and strength, but also weight lifting or high intensity interval training. But that’s not my area of expertise, and you’ll find many impressive programs by personal trainers online geared specifically to improve VO2max, heart rate, and aerobic exercise.
What I want to talk about is the other half of cardio endurance: what you’re eating. No matter what your fitness level is, the food you eat can help your aerobic endurance.
Carbs for Cardio Endurance
It’s not new news, but for most people, carbs are a key part of cardiovascular fitness. Your muscles use carbs to support exercise, especially endurance exercise and high intensity exercise. Inadequate carbohydrate intake impairs performance, pacing, motor skills, and concentration[*].
The base recommendation is 6-10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day. During workouts from 90 to 120 minutes, try to consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour[*].
My favorite sources of carbs are mushrooms, fruit, gluten-free grains (like brown rice and quinoa), and sweet potatoes.
Protein for Cardio Endurance
For years, athletes were told that sipping branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) boosts endurance and muscle gain. These are the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine.
The problem? It’s probably a placebo effect. Several studies published in 2017 showed that these fancy supplements are significantly less effective at spurring muscle growth than simply eating a healthy diet[*]. If you’re getting enough protein from any source, you don’t need BCAAs.
So don’t stress about protein right after your workout. Just make sure you’re getting enough throughout the day. If you’re not sure what your protein needs are, talk to a sports dietitian.
Cordyceps for Cardio Endurance
My introduction to the cordyceps mushroom was when training for my first marathon. I took many, many times the recommended dose, and man did I race! (And I’m not talking about my heart rate!)
Cordyceps are used in traditional Chinese medicine to increase the production of red blood cells and to fight fatigue. We now know that cordyceps help to deliver oxygen to your cells[*].
VO2max is a test that determines how you can perform sustained exercise. It’s the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise to complete fatigue. Elite endurance athletes will typically have a high VO2max.
Not only do cordyceps mushrooms help you improve VO2max but they also affect energy at a cellular level. ATP is your body’s main energy supply and is required for all cellular processes. It’s basically your batteries. The active compounds in cordyceps can increase the ATP levels in your body, and thereby may increase your energy levels[*].
Consistent chronic supplementation is key[*].
Beet Root Juice for Cardio Endurance
Beets contain more sugar than most vegetables, but they also contain a lot more nitrate. Nitrate is an ion that's present in a variety of fruits and vegetables (particularly greens), but it’s highly concentrated in beet root juice.
When you eat nitrate, it is converted to nitric oxide (NO). NO opens up your blood vessels and allows more blood and oxygen to be delivered to muscles. Nitrate may also reduce the energy cost of exercise[*].
A systematic review concluded the following[*]:
“The available results suggest that supplementation with beetroot juice can improve cardiorespiratory endurance in athletes by increasing efficiency, which improves performance at various distances, increases time to exhaustion at submaximal intensities, and may improve the cardiorespiratory performance at anaerobic threshold intensities and maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max).”
To see the best effects, consume the beet root juice two to three hours before a big training event when you’re endurance building. Daily supplementation does not seem to be necessary.
Rhodiola for Cardio Endurance
Sometimes called Arctic root or golden root, Rhodiola has been traditionally used in both Scandinavian and Chinese medicine as an adaptogen. That means that it can help your body to adapt to stressful situations, including events that are stressful to your cardiovascular system[*].
Rhodiola is often considered as a supplement for reducing fatigue, but it’s referring to a specific type of fatigue you feel when you’re stressed — whether that’s from a punishing workout or from making too many high-pressure decisions at the office.
Ashwagandha for Cardio Endurance
This root has a long history of being used in Ayurvedic medicine, a traditional system of healing with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.
In a 2012 study, an eight-week course of supplementing Ashwagandha in cyclists found that 1 gram of ashwagandha per day resulted in an increase in aerobic exercise capacity and total time for the athlete to reach exhaustion[*].
Training and Food for Endurance
My hope is that you’re able to pair your robust cardio endurance training sessions with fueling that will help you achieve your next PR. Cordyceps helped me to unlock my own marathon training, and I hope these foods will help you to key into what works for your body. Of course, if you have any questions, I recommend you speak to a sports dietitian about your own unique needs.
Good luck with your training! To join a community of like-minded food nerds, be sure to join the ‘Shroom Club on Facebook.