The world of sports nutrition is quite an interesting space to be in. I often get to hear sob stories of failed races due stomach issues, lack of energy, severe cramping and nausea. Just this past week I stood at the 32Gi Sports Nutrition and Dis-Chem expo stands at the Cape Town Cycle Tour advising athletes on fuelling strategies based on their needs. The common theme I got from the few days there was that most athletes create very interesting meals but they have absolutely no idea how to cook. If you are going to make a chicken soup then why add lamb, beef and fish to it?
When it comes down to proper fuelling it needs to be a well thought out simple recipe of success. Complicating fuelling will only lead to issues whether rebound hypoglycemia, gastrointestinal distress, fatigue, nausea dehydration and a complete lack of energy.
Sports Nutrition products are designed to be a convenient fuelling source which meets a specific need. The carbohydrate blends, mineral levels and recommended volumes of consumption are calculated and designed to have a desired function. The minute you take that product and start to add other nutrients and blends into the mix there is absolutely no ways the desired effect will take place as you are changing the recipe for the successful pot of soup.
As an example 32Gi’s new Race Pro drink is designed so it can be a single bottle energy source feed for an entire event. I had an athlete tell me he tried it and along with the drink he consumed gels and nougat bars. He said the drink did not sit well with him and he felt terrible. I asked why he did that and his response was because he needed them.
Of course he would feel terrible. Here he is drinking a product that has a much higher gastric emptying rate than a gel and its designed to be used in a certain way for a desired effect, yet he throws a gel and nougat bar into the mix. That is just plain stupid and to explain it to him in simple terms I asked him if he likes peanut butter sandwiches? He said yes. So I told him the next time he makes a peanut butter sandwich add some broccoli and cauliflower with it between the two slices of bread and if he really wants it to taste great and make him feel better he should add some egg and chocolate to it. He looked at me and said you kidding right?
I said no not at all it seems you the kind of person that enjoys this mix. The point I was making was that this is exactly what he did with his fuelling. He concocted an unscientific complicated recipe for disaster which led to his fuelling failure.
When it comes to proper fuelling you need to make sure you know exactly what you are taking in, how much you are taking in and when you should be taking it.
So how do I develop a proper fuelling strategy?
Firstly you need to separate your energy and hydration requirements.
Energy requirements are unique to an individual and each person will have to figure out what works best for them. Energy required in endurance events comes mainly in the form of carbohydrates and protein. Short hard events 3 hours or under would not need protein intake but mainly carbohydrate intake to fuel the level of effort. As the duration of exercise increases carbohydrates together with a small portion of protein would play a bigger benefit in sparing glycogen and slowing amino acid breakdown due to gluconeogenisis which can lead to muscle fatigue.
Step 1: Determine the Energy Requirements
In terms of sports nutrition it’s important to understand that a balance between energy and digestive comfort is required. What you consume needs to be processed and each person is unique in how adaptive the digestive system is based on genetics and diet.
It’s best to start with the type of discipline you are wanting to do. Cycling provides more stability to the digestive system so generally a higher dosage of fuel can be tolerated. Running however generates a lot more sensitivity around the digestive system and smaller feeds are generally tolerated a lot better. Lower intensity exercise as well as lighter athletes can look at a lower carbohydrate intake while higher intensity exercise and heavier athletes will look at a much higher carbohydrate intake to support the efforts. This can range from 0.8g/kg bodyweight up to 1.5g/kg body weight per an hour. General Guidelines look at a protocol of 30g-60g of carbohydrates per an hour which equates to 120Kcals – 240kcals per an hour. Only in very specific carbohydrate blends can higher dosages be tolerated to support long duration exercise but this is not recommended without proper testing in training first.
The below chart is an approximate guideline of how you can approach your fuelling strategy but make sure to test it in training. Always start low and then build higher to ensure comfort and digestive system adaption.
|Sport||Weight||Hourly Carbohydrate / Protein Dosage|
|Running||50-60kg||30 – 50g (120 – 200Kcals) |
Low GI Distress Risk
|60-70kg||30 – 60g (120 – 240Kcals) |
Low GI Distress Risk
|70-80kg||30 – 65g (160kcals-260Kcals) |
Medium GI distress Risk
|80kg >||40 -70g (160Kcals -280Kcals)|
Medium GI distress Risk
|Cycling||50-60kg||30 – 60g (120 – 240Kcals)|
Low GI Distress Risk
|60-70kg||40 – 70g (160 – 280Kcals)|
Medium GI distress Risk
|70-80kg||50 – 80g (200kcals -320Kcals) |
Higher GI Distress Risk
|80kg >||50 -90g (200Kcals -360Kcals) |
High GI Distress Risk
Start with the lower volume zones and gradually increase the dosage in training to see what the best balance is of energy to digestive comfort. If the digestive system takes strain with higher dosages, then lower them. That is your tipping point. It’s best to consume in a drip feeding manner meaning more frequent feeds to get the desired amount. This reduces the risk of the digestive system going into distress as it’s easier to process smaller amounts at once. It also stabilises you better over time mitigating the roller coaster effect of highs and lows.
As mentioned above the fuel needs to support the effort. This is based on time and intensity. If we take a look at the basic training zones from zone 1 to zone 5 we know that lower intensity efforts will require a lower carbohydrate intake to support it as the body will have the ability to maximize fat usage as a source of fuel. However as we move through the zones which can also happen over time due to cardiac drift the carbohydrate volume will need to increase to support the efforts. As an simple example a slow Zone 1/2 ride of 2-3hrs will not need much carbohydrate support so in the case of a product recommendation 32Gi Endure and or 32Gi Hydrate electrolyte fizzies would be able to support this session. But take a hard quality session of say 90min to 2hrs with hitting Zone’s 3 – 5 where glycogen becomes the main fuel source then a higher dosage of carbohydrate intake is required to support that effort. To truly meet training adaptations meaning supporting your full potential properly when doing quality workouts it is important to fuel that effort properly. In this case a drink like 32Gi Race Pro, Race and 32Gi Gels would provide better fuelling support. I created a video a while back explaining the fuel tanks relative to zone training. It is worth a watch just Click Here to view.
Step 2: Choose your Energy Source to Meet your Fuelling Requirements
What format of fuel are you wanting to use to achieve your energy requirements. Do you prefer a liquid feed or a solid feed or do you prefer a combination of both?
The most important thing to remember is that you need to adhere to simplicity and a proper measured value to ensure you get exactly what you need as well as the correct absorption rates. Check the ingredients carefully you want it to be as clean and simple as possible. After all your stomach needs to process what you putting into it. Keep it carbohydrate dominant and very clean avoid fats they slow down the rate of absorption and especially avoid trans fats you only asking for trouble by mixing that into you fuelling strategy.
As a simple example if you are going with a concentrated energy feed like 32Gi Race Pro that will provide you with all your energy requirements in a single bottle then there is no need to take anything else with it. Its specifically designed to be absorbed at a certain rate in its current format and mixing it with another product will impact that. So the only thing required along side it would be a hydration drink such as 32Gi Hydrate or water. If you are wanting to use say an isotonic drink such as 32Gi Endure you need to have in mind that a bottle contains 44 grams of carbohydrates per a serving and if you drank 3/4 of that bottle in an hour you would only get around 33grams of carbohydrates per an hour which could be a serious energy deficit if you are aiming for a 60gram per an hour feed. So now you need to consider an external energy source which can be used with Endure which wont impact its efficacy but give you the required energy outcome. In this case adding in Chews or Gels would plug the gap in required hourly carbohydrate intake.
Step 3: How to Hydrate Properly
Once you have chosen your energy source you need to think about hydration very carefully. If you are using an isotonic drink which is providing you both energy and minerals to hydrate then you need to make sure that you will be able to take in the desired amount hourly to meet your hydration and energy needs. One of the reasons I advocate separating energy and hydration is because of weather conditions. On a hot day it will probably be easier to consume a bottle of an isotonic solution, however over consuming would mean knowing how many carbs you are taking externally to that and adjusting the feed accordingly. But what if its a cooler day? You don’t lose as much fluid in the form of sweat and you drink less fluid. However now your energy system is impacted by the calorie deficit and you need to adjust the feed accordingly. This might leave you consuming more energy in the form of gels which if not combined with the correct amounts of fluid can leave you with GI distress. The simplest feed is the easiest feed that does not require mathematical calculations during a session. In this case a single source feed and a single source hydration system are in my mind the simplest solution. From a hydration perspective you need to understand the conditions you will be exercising in and hydrate accordingly. Meaning the type of hydration drink will need to be determined according to the your sweat rate under various conditions. The idea is to try to replenish 80% of lost fluid. Water on its own is not as easily absorbed as a hypotonic drink and this is why I advocate a hypotonic solution to maximise fluid absorption and not take a chance. I wrote a blog Simply Hydrate explaining hydration in detail you can click here to take a read.
In summary I want you to understand that nutrition and proper fuelling are so critical not just in sports performance but also recovery and overall health. Many athletes focus on the training and wake up way too late to give the nutrition the proper focus it needs to perform, recover faster and remain in good health. Don’t be the athlete that spoils the soup and fuels your race to failure. Plan it properly, test it over and over in training, tweak it, bank it and take it to race day.
All the best
Mark Wolff is a certified exercise & sports nutritionist, endurance nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multi-sport athlete with a running, triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is given the proper focus. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is also co-founder of Rapid Recover focused on pneumatic compression equipment to improve circulation for recovery, rehabilitation and health.