Friday, September 16, 2011

10 Tips for Fueling Success

Photo credit Eva Kolenko
Being properly fueled while training or racing can mean the difference between finishing with a smile on your face or not finishing at all. There is definitely a balance in the number of calories you need to ingest during exercise. If you take in too few calories you risk bonking (low blood sugar resulting in sudden fatigue and loss of energy).  But if you take in too many calories you can inhibit your muscles from working properly. 

Here are my top ten tips to keep you moving in the right direction:

1)  Start your workout with a full tank.

  • Eat approximately 50-75 grams (200-300 calories) of carbohydrates before a workout to help increase your glycogen levels (your muscles’ primary fuel source during exercise). 
  • In addition, 2-3 hours prior to exercise you should drink about 15-20 fl oz of fluids to help with hydration.

2) Drink early and often. 

  • Losing even just 2% of your body weight from sweat loss can impair your performance, contribute to injuries or even worse, cause heat illness. 
  • Don’t use thirst as a guide to hydrating as this means you are already behind in your fluid replacement.

3) Stay hydrated throughout your workout. 

  • It is tough to recommend specific fluid replacement guidelines for exercise because of a variety of factors (individual weight, weather, intensity level, terrain, etc.). However, as a starting guideline, aim to drink approximately 8-10 oz every 15 minutes while exercising. 
  •  To help determine what your needs are, weigh yourself before and after exercising and for every 1lb lost, drink 20-24 fl oz of water to replace lost fluid. You can then modify your fluid needs as desired depending on the workout and other factors.

4) The one-hour rule.

  • When exercising longer than an hour it’s important to take in carbohydrates and electrolytes, especially in warmer weather. 
  • In general, ingesting between 60-90 grams (200-360 calories) of carbohydrates per hour of exercise will result in the greatest performance benefit.

5) What to drink. 

  • As mentioned in #4, water is adequate when exercising less than an hour.
  • When a sports drink is needed to help replace your fluids and electrolytes, research shows that the ideal carbohydrate concentration is between 6-8%. A higher concentration is likely to cause gastrointestinal distress and a lower concentration will likely result in a loss of performance.

6) Practice, practice, practice! 

  • As mentioned above, your exact caloric intake requirement will vary depending on your weight, your stomach’s tolerance, the length of time of your workout and the intensity level at which you are exercising.  Therefore, it is very important that you practice during training to see what drinks/foods your stomach will tolerate and how much.

7) Choose something easily digested.

  • Stick with sports drinks, gels, energy bars, bananas or other small snacks that are easily absorbed.
  • There are many different types of energy replacement foods and drinks out on the market. To help find something that is right for you, visit your local bike or running store (such as Fleet Feet Sports), as many of them will have a variety of brands and flavors as well as trained employees to help educate you about the products

8) Avoid sugar overload.

  • While many of the energy replacement foods (gels, chews, jelly beans, etc.) are fast-acting and an easy-to-digest source of carbohydrates, be sure to drink water rather than a sports drink with them. Drinking water helps enhance absorption and avoid gastrointestinal distress from a sugar overload.

9) Race day rules. 

  • On race morning, eat the same foods that you are used to eating everyday. Never experiment with new foods before or during a race. 
  • It’s best to wake up about 3 hours before your event to get in a good breakfast. Additionally, about 2 hours before your race start is when you should be finished eating solid foods so that your body can properly digest its food and be prepared to race.

10) Post-exercise fueling. 

  • Carbohydrate intake and hydration are very important for recovery and sustaining energy levels after exercising. Try to eat approximately .5 grams (2 calories) of carbohydrates for every 1lb you weigh within 2 hours after exercising to help replenish your glycogen stores. 
  • Protein is also important, but at a lesser amount than the carbohydrates. Some experts recommend a carbohydrate to protein ratio of 4-to-1, while other recommend a 2-to-1 ratio. Experiment to find the best ratio for you (your needs may vary depending on the intensity level of each workout as well).

Happy training and racing!

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