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Make smart nutrition choices to stay energized for multiday events

By Suzanne Girard Eberle


The biggest danger with multiday rides, runs, treks and tours, cycling classics, sports camps, and climbing expeditions is incomplete recovery—you slowly become glycogen depleted as each day passes and thus become increasingly fatigued. You find yourself less and less able to respond quickly or maintain your desired pace, and mentally you find that your commitment and enthusiasm start to wane. (Of course, chronic fatigue can set in as early as day 2 or 3 if you haven’t trained adequately with long back-to-back efforts, but you can’t do anything about that now.)

When it comes to eating and drinking, think before, during, and after. Fuel up every day before you start with a carbohydrate-rich breakfast to maximize your glycogen stores. If you’ll be pushing the pace or racing (working at moderate to high intensity, above 60 percent of VO2max) you’ll need to eat and drink at the earlier end of your acceptable breakfast window to start out on an empty stomach and minimize digestive problems. Drink again as near the start time as you can or top off with an energy gel taken with water. If the day is going to be more of a long, slow effort, then it’s generally OK to eat closer to the start (say, two to three hours beforehand) and to include fattier foods that take longer to empty from your stomach and be digested.

During the event or race, you’ll need to drink regularly (every 15 to 20 minutes) and refuel (every 30 to 60 minutes) from the onset so that you consume at least 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Sports drinks are the rehydrating beverage of choice to replace fluid and electrolytes. Along with sports drinks, a safe approach is to rely on energy gels and well-tolerated carbohydrate snacks during faster-paced efforts. Be prepared with salty foods or electrolyte tablets to help keep pace with your sodium needs. On long, slow days, incorporate real food, especially for the mental boost that it provides.

The key is to drink and snack regularly as you go, keeping pace with the calories that you’re expending. Unless you have a four-hour or longer break planned, eating a large amount at any one time, such as a lunchtime meal or a meal during a rest stop, will divert blood away from working muscles when you resume exercising. You will feel lethargic and unresponsive and end the day lamenting how much harder the second half was.

When you’ve stopped moving for the day, your job is not done. You must consciously take advantage of the carbohydrate window, particularly the first 15 minutes, to maximize the glycogen replenishment process (see chapter 4 for a review). Ingest a substantial amount of carbohydrate calories immediately— at least .5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (~1.0 grams per kilogram) of body weight. (Even better, take in .75 grams per pound.) Remember, these are carbohydrate calories, not just calories from anything, like beer, nacho chips, or a candy bar. A recovery drink or meal replacement beverage can make the job easier (see the chart in chapter 5), and a small amount of protein may help reduce muscle soreness.

Each evening eat a high-carbohydrate meal that includes a good source of quality protein (for example, 20 to 30 grams as supplied by 3 to 4 ounces, or 85 to 112 grams, of meat). If need be, eat another carbohydrate-rich snack before bedtime.

Weighing yourself (if feasible) before you begin and right afterward can be very useful because you can quickly ascertain how well you are doing at meeting your fluid needs during the event or race. Over the next few hours, drink at least 2.5 cups of fluid for every pound (or 1.3 liters for every kilogram) that you are down. If you’re down more than a few pounds, adjust your drinking plan for subsequent efforts and pay attention to your sodium intake too. Losing weight from day to day (especially in events and races lasting longer than three to five days) and having sore or “dead” legs that are struggling to respond are prime signs of chronic glycogen depletion. Your job is to stop the damage from occurring before it becomes too much to reverse by eating more (especially carbohydrate calories), taking more time to recover, or most likely some of both.

 

This is an excerpt from Endurance Sports Nutrition.




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