The longstanding debate about whether you should burn fat or carbohydrates Training and race day fuel is still raging in endurance circles, but I believe the following:
There is a time and place for both methods. You just need to know when and how to use them.
I am competitive vegan triathletewho switched to training after years of terrible GI problems refuel almost exclusively with whole foods. And through a lot of trial and error (and science … I have a MS in nutrition) I understood which types of fuel work best for different workouts, races and training plans.
In this post, I break down the different types of fuel – carbohydrates, fat and even protein – and when and how to use them. If you follow this strategy – along with a healthy diet herbal diet – They help eliminate bonks and maintain a constant energy level during your session.
So fill up your training and workout
1. Refuel with clean carbohydrates
When it comes to refueling with carbohydrates, I like to divide them into two categories: low-calorie and high-calorie.
Low calorie carbohydrates
Let’s start with low-calorie carbohydrates because they are the easiest to digest and are converted to energy almost immediately. These simple carbohydrates allow your body to use glycogen for quick energy when you need an almost instant boost or to prevent the dreaded bonk.
The disadvantage is that it is used up within 30-45 minutes and often has to be refilled during longer training sessions.
Sample foods: Fruit (dried fruits, bananas, Medjool dates), sweet potatoes.
How to use: Eat low-calorie, high-carb foods when you feel like you’re going to get a bonk! You can also do this during or immediately before your workout for a quick boost of energy.
When to use: Use every 30-45 minutes during long workouts or before short workouts instead of a full meal.
Best for: High intensity training, Racing or as an additional fuel for longer efforts.
Many calories carbohydrates
This energy is similar to the one above, but the carbohydrates are somewhat more complex. Because they are higher in calories, your body will not consume the energy for glycogen as quickly because your body can burn more calories (energy).
These types of foods are great for people who exercise a little longer and only want to use low-calorie carbohydrates as a replacement for anti-bonking.
Sample foods: Regular bread, cereals, other grains such as oats or oatmeal.
How to use: Eat high-calorie carbohydrates before a medium or long workout and to keep you going during the extra long days!
When to use: Eat more than 90 minutes 1-3 hours before exercise and every 2 hours during exercise, high-carb, high-calorie foods. This is good to use during exercise if your stomach is sensitive and you don’t want to add fat to affect your GI tract.
Best for: Endurance events longer than 90 minutes.
2. Refuel with carbohydrates and fat
For endurance efforts with lower intensity – hiking, Ultrarunningor backpacking – a mixture of carbohydrates and fat is most effective. The high amount of calories from the fat helps you maintain your exertion, and the stored glycogen from the carbohydrates serves as a backup.
Fat and carbohydrates are the two highest calorie foods. So when you combine these two together, you get enough fuel for your very long days. The glycogen stores burn first, while the fat stores are ready later in the day.
Sample foods: Toast and nut butter, muesli with nut butter or mostly nut-based, grain-free nut-based snacks, other sources of healthy fats, paired with low-calorie or high-calorie carbohydrates.
How to use: Long endurance days over 4 hours that require a little more than just endurance – activities that penetrate your muscle stores.
When to use: 1-3 hours before training and every 1-2 hours during training.
Best for: Hiking, cycling, backpacking, Trail runningor spartan obstacle course.
3. Refuel with a balanced mixture of protein, carbohydrates and fat
What about protein?
The idea behind refueling with a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fat and protein is to increase calorie intake while increasing nutrient intake.
Not only do they store glycogen, they also help replenish torn muscle tissue and fatigue the next day.
These meals may not be particularly high in calories, but the balance provides satiety and you probably only need low-calorie, fast-burning energy for backup.
I use this method mostly when I train for a triathlon with consecutive training blocks.
How to use: Before a medium or long training session, especially between two consecutive training sessions or an intensive race.
When to use: Best 1-3 hours before training for 90 minutes and every 2 hours during training. Also right after a workout for relaxation or between two successive efforts.
Best for: Top training, race day, high-intensity training over 90 minutes, relaxation.
4. Fill up with fat
Refueling with fat has become an increasingly popular topic in recent years. The idea is pretty simple:
Instead of relying on carbohydrates as an energy source, your body turns into slow, evenly burning fats, of which your body has plenty. Some ultra runners and endurance athletes have had success with this method, but it requires training the body and running in a low-carb state.
When exercising in the cold, the human body not only burns additional calories of heat (glycogen) from the exercise, but also tries to warm up the body. So it burns fat reserves like crazy.
Sample foods: Avocados, nuts, seeds, nut butter, healthy oils.
How to use: Long endurance days over 4-6 hours.
When to use: Every 1-2 hours during training and between sessions.
Best for: Weight lifting, climbing, swimming (especially in colder water), mountaineering and other mainly muscle and strength training sports that last longer than 90 minutes.
There is no right or wrong way to refuel a workout
Sure, some refueling techniques are more effective for certain types of training, but refueling for athletics can be very personal.
What works for me may not work for you, and you may have had a lot of success with a technique that my body couldn’t handle.
So what should you do?
- Start with the simple outline above to serve as a guide.
- Experiment. Try different techniques on different trips to see how your body reacts.
It takes a lot of practice – and patience – to master the art of driving your efforts forward.
But if you do it right, your workouts will feel like magic.
About the author: Izzy Fischer is an Ironman 70.3 World Championship Qualifier and Nutrition MS and coincidentally the newest team member of No Meat Athlete.
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