This article is not about promoting any specific diets or food but to inform the mountain endurance athletes on fueling & hydration strategies. A quick read, takes about 5 minutes and maybe 8 to process!
You run or ride or both, train for long distance, you want to gain more endurance, get faster, you desire to finish feeling strong after a 2-3hours+ workout, you race or not, you want to perform. Read the following!
When training for endurance events it’s important to pay attention to what and when to eat, same goes for proper hydration strategies. The purpose of this article is to give you the basic knowledge to understand the importance of it and gain great tips.
Performance can be impaired when athletes are dehydrated. Endurance athletes should drink beverages containing carbohydrate and electrolyte during and after training of over 1hour. It will enhance performance, avoid ensuing thermal stress, maintain plasma volume, delay fatigue, and prevent injuries associated with dehydration, sweat loss and musculoskeletal issues
In contrast, over drinking straight water before, during, and after endurance session may cause depletion and may lead to hyponatremia. It is imperative that endurance athletes replace sweat loss via fluid intake containing carbohydrate solution and electrolytes during training and competition.
Hyponatremia occurs when the concentration of sodium in the blood is abnormally low. Sodium is an electrolyte, and it helps regulate the amount of water that’s in and around your cells.
Performance can be impaired between 5% to 30% if poor hydration is constant.
Factors that contribute to degradation of performance during exercise while in a severe dehydrated state are:
Increased cardiovascular strain
Increased heat strain
Altered central nervous system function
Altered metabolic function
The importance of electrolytes & carbohydrate powder mix in your water:
Maintain blood glucose and muscle glycogen level constant
Maintain healthy heart beat
Maintain water level balance in the body
Maintain core body temperature
Maintain energy level for the demand
When you are thirsty you are more than often already dehydrated.
Drinking only water when out on long workouts dehydrates you.
Maintaining an appropriate level of hydration on a daily basis will lead to overall health benefits.
What and when we eat will influence:
Quality of each training sessions
Energy level during and after workouts
The key during endurance training is to sustain good energy throughout the full length of the workout, to do this you need to maintain constant blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels.
The best way to achieve this is with proper fueling strategies:
Before, during and shortly after workouts.
Since glycogen is such an important fuel source for the body, which plays an important role in the contraction of muscles, depleted muscle glycogen stores can have detrimental effects on performance, and is the primary fuel source for most organs, such as the brain.
If glycogen stores are not being replenished with carbohydrates from food or drinks, storage will run out. Once this occurs, the body will find alternative ways to create more glucose. The liver will begin to break down fat and protein to form glucose, which can then be used for energy. It’s not an efficient option and extremely stressful on the liver & kidney and immune system. Often when this occurs while racing or on a long training session, the key symptom: constantly have to urinate.
We use most of our calories during short intense session and in the second half of a long endurance workout, and also when it is very cold or extremely hot.
We also continue to burn calories post high intensity workouts.
Lets look at the Glycemic index of food:
High glycemic food are good before and right after exercise:
Provides instant energy, which we need after an intense/short effort, and right after a long endurance training session.
The best is to have it in a form of powder mix, it enters your blood stream quicker.
Bring blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels back to normal quicker and to increase recovery rate.
Spike insulin production and activate delivery of important nutrients for muscle building and anti-catabolic enzymes.
Examples: fruit smoothies, bananas, watermelon, grapes, raisins, couscous, muesli, potatoes, greek & goat yogurt, dried fruits.
Sports drink mix with average 45% protein and 45% carbohydrate are great for quick recovery.
Never start a workout on an empty stomach or feeling hungry or thirsty, you will have minimal energy and won’t gain much from that training session. Make sure you take a pre-workout drink mix or eat a small meal within an hour of training. Focus on quality workouts; start exercising feeling good and do your best to finish feeling great also!
Moderate to low glycemic food are good before or during long workouts.
Nutrient food and sport powder mix that enters your blood stream slowly and can be available longer. You can have it in form of snacks, gels or powder to mix with water.
Fuel will be available for a longer period of time, enters blood stream slower, so will help sustain your desire pace with sufficient energy for the distance.
Maintain body water levels, minerals & vitamins, amino acids, blood glucose and muscle glycogen.
Example of fruits: bananas, apples, pears.
Best is to find a good powder mix (sugar, salt and electrolytes), with low glycemic index to use for long training runs/racing. You don’t know which to buy, ask me!
Important: read labels, many companies have awful ingredients including too much sugar and caffeine. Stay away from protein mix for during exercises, we need protein for recovery not for energy.
Ensuring post workout drink is just one piece to the equation, 30-50 minutes after your training session, a small to medium size meal or snack incorporating protein, fat and carbohydrates is important to keep your muscles recovering, brain firing and proper heart beat. Understanding how insulin effects the uptake of nutrients and the recovery process should help structure your daily nutrition around your workouts
Why is it so important to eat soon after an endurance or short intense session?
Short intense and long endurance workouts decreases muscle glycogen and blood glucose reserve: you are lower in calories and energy. With a post-workout meal the body insulin level rises and muscles absorb carbohydrate quicker from the bloodstream. That is mostly effective within the first 30minutes to an hour post workout, the longer you wait to eat the slower you will recover and won’t feel as good comes next day workout.
Carbohydrate restriction = Decreased Insulin Production = Glucose, protein, creatine cannot enter muscle cells.
Results: lack of energy, no strength and decreased performance.
It’s important to eat soon after training:
First to refuel your somewhat ‘depleted body’
To increase recovery rate
To decrease chances of muscle soreness, tightness and overuse injuries
To feel fresh for next day workout
To increase energy level
To increase your performance level
50% of your recovery can be achieve within the first hour post-workout, the recovery rate will continue thereafter between 5-12% per hour. The better you are at applying this routine the quicker you will recover and have greater energy for next day training session. The longer you wait to eat the longer it will take you to recovery, at times it can take over 24 hours.
What to eat post workout: protein, fat with good carbs!
Symptoms of low blood sugar and low muscle glycogen (hypoglycemia) during training/racing:
sudden feel of low energy / bonking
severe leg muscle soreness and weakness / cramps
Symptoms of poor fueling strategies:
Example: regularly training only with water or nothing at all, or low calorie diets, or never training with electrolytes/gels or nutrient snacks.
Feeling of heavy legs
Pain, tightness in muscles during and/or post-workout
No leg power/strength when training
Ongoing musculoskeletal pain and overuse injuries
Never getting faster
Regular training with low glycogen levels limits potential, decreases recovery time, limits your strength, increases your chance of injuries. Also muscles and connective tissue become dehydrated, tense, weak and vulnerable to injuries.
Important science to understand:
In a state of hypoglycemia, the body will begin producing catabolic hormones, such as cortisol. Catabolic hormones break down muscle tissue in order to convert the proteins within to glucose. This will increase blood sugar levels and provide energy to continue exercising, however, cortisol also suppresses the immune system and puts large stress on the liver & kidneys. Also, the act of regularly breaking down muscle tissue for immediate energy during exercise can contribute to muscle atrophy, and overtime can lead to on-going overuse injuries and immune system disorders.
Examples of healthy snacks: bananas, apple, pear, kiwi, dried fruits, avocado, figs, nuts.
Some companies provide sports gels and bars, make sure you read the labels, many of them are pure sugar!
Healthy salad post workout: green leafs, nuts, dried fruits, egg, avocado, figs, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, and extra virgin olive oil.
Recovery Tips for endurance athlete:
Right after training have a recovery drink: average 45% carbohydrate & 45% protein
Small nutrient meal within 1 hour of workout
Two days off in a row instead of only one
Cold water spray daily on legs after session
Legs up against wall after workout – hold 45sec. to 1min.
When feeling low energy/tired but good enough to train, substitute a long workout for an easy/short session.
Eat healthy and fresh food
Tips for endurance events:
Know ahead of time what you will do and anticipate!
Do not use thirst, or your sweat rate to hydrate, get use to drinking regularly.
Do not wait to be hungry to eat, it’s too late by then: eat on the run
Enough water between checkpoint
Different food for extreme weather: severe heat versus cold & rain.
Ultra-events: enough calorie for the full event
Anticipate food for upset stomach, easier to digest.
What will you eat and when: e.g. diverse food & snacks
When will you refill with water & electrolytes; efficient ways of loading / how will you store your extra electrolytes.
Soft food is easier to digest, so stay away from raw vegetables and hard fruits 48hrs prior to an event.
Train smart + quality recovery + good fueling strategies = results
Practice your strategies of refueling, hydration, your goal pace, in diverse conditions you may face so you know what to expect and how your body may react.
Why is fueling & hydration strategies crucial for endurance athletes?
To maintain blood & brain sugar and muscle glycogen level constant
To maintain core body temperature
To sustain the goal intensity level
To increase performance capacity
To increase fat adaptation
To increase recovery rate
To maintain a steady heartbeat
To maintain your connective tissue & muscles hydrated
To help sustain proper muscular contraction
To enjoy great fitness, energy and have fun in the mountains!
As hard as you train, you need to recover just as hard since it’s the time you are actually gaining!
Take care of your body like you take care of your bikes & skis!
You want to learn more about fueling and hydration? I have two free events schedule this month:
Wednesday June 13th Chamonix Patagonia Store Event: 18:30 social run followed with talk on Hydration & Fueling for the trail.
Friday evening July 6th Chamonix Arc’teryx Alpine Academy: Seminar Perform better and recovery faster through food and hydration
Stay in touch, email me your thoughts firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading… Chloë
Monthly educational articles for the passionate mountain athlete – New for 2018!