Training Fuel

by:  Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, The Running Nutritionist®

When your training is picking up steam, staying energized is key for feeling great as you’re building longer workouts. Preventing energy depletion means replenishing sugars in your blood, muscles and liver. Ya don’t have much sugar to spare—only about 60 to 90 minutes worth of stored sugar called glycogen depending on your daily dietary intake of carbs and intensity and duration of your daily training. If glycogen stores drop to critically low levels,training for any length of time, intensity and speed is an effort and as the veterans will say, you’ll “bonk.”

Glycogen depletion can also be a gradual process—the result of repeated days of training without adequate carb replacement. You can also deplete with repetitive high-intensity work, like pick ups—spurts of faster speeds on top of your longer workouts. To avoid the bonk, eating enough total daily carbs, and carb fueling before, during and after running is imperative. How much do you need before during and after your workouts?

Pre workout Fuel

The pre training fluid or snack helps to maintain optimal levels of blood sugar for muscles, and can help restore suboptimal liver glycogen stores. If you train first thing in the morning and cannot imagine eating anything first thing, then your last meal or snack the night before will serve as your “pre run” snack but it needs to be carb-loaded—a tennis ball size or two of grains, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, peas or corn seasoned with 2 to 3 servings of fruit, vegetables or low fat dairy.

If the pre workout snack is within 1 hour of training, keep it simple—leave the fibers, fat and spices for other mealtimes if you want to avoid training “trots” and indigestion. Get a snack that provides 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram body weight, 1 to 4 hours prior to your run respectively. If you weight 120 pounds, that means eating about 54 grams of carbs, 1 hour before training from simple foods like a sport beverage, bar or shake, plain toast, cereal or crackers, or a serving or two of fruit. You can do the math by multiplying by taking your kg weight and multiplying by the number of hours you’re eating before, i.e. 2, 3 or 4 hours.

As a reference, a slice of toast, ½ cup of unsweetened cereal or 6 saltines has about 15 grams of carbs; 14 grams for every 8 oz of sports drink; 30-45 grams for a banana and 21-40 grams for some of the more popular high carbohydrate sport bars. Additional carbohydrate rich foods can be found in the Carb Chart.

Carb Chart

Food               serving size               calories                      total (gms)       

Bagels            1 regular                      165                              31

Cereal                1 cup                           110                              24

Cornbread       1 square                     178                              28

English muffin 1 medium                 130                              25

Noodles             1 cup                           159                              34

Pretzels             1 ounce                       106                              21

Tortilla Flour,  1 small                          85                              15

Sweet Potato    1 large                        118                              28

Apple                  1 medium                     81                              21

Applesauce        1 cup                          232                              60

Training Fuel

Eating carbohydrates during longer workouts also improves performance, speeds recovery and may help to prevent post- race respiratory illness (URTI). Although it can’t prevent fatigue, it can definitely delay it. Eating during exercise can also spare muscle protein and carbohydrates so you recover faster and are more energized for the next workout.

Some athletes prefer a sports drink, while others like orange slices or a sports gel with water. Regardless, training is a great time to practice your sport fuel since everything doesn’t work for everyone even if the fuel is designed for athletes. Trying different brands and flavors helps you find the best one for you and work out the GI kinks and compete without a snag on race day.

The recommended amount of carbs to consume during workouts is about 25 to 30 grams every 30 minutes. Sixteen ounces of most sports drinks have this amount unless they’re diluted. Sip a few ounces every 15 to 20 minutes after you start your second hour of training. Sport gels, gummies, and beans also have approximately this amount per 1 oz portion, however be careful. Exceeding a total of 60 to 70 grams/hour from all sport fuels combined can cause major gut distress. Keeping a mental tab of your total consumption will help you to avoid unnecessary pit stops during your workouts.

Post Workout Fuel

You need about 1.5 grams of carbs per kilogram bodyweight within 30 minutes after training for complete recovery. Waiting ‘til you’re done showering and dressing and off to work slows down replenishment two-fold and can impact your next training session.

If you like sweets, this is the time to indulge since sweeter carbs has been shown to result in higher muscle glycogen compared with the same amount of complex carbohydrates. Adding protein, or about a 3:1 ratio carbs to protein has been shown to enhance muscle recovery.

After you’ve finished indulging in your favorite post workout fuel, enjoy the moment. You’ve finished another amazing training session and are well on your way to a healthy recovery and another great workout in the morning.

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