Setting the Stage: The Difference between Nutrition and Fueling
To maximize performance gains from your training it is essential that you understand this critical approach to your nutrition and fueling. Fueling is the most critical part of both performance gains and body composition improvements. Despite that, most endurance athletes dramatically under fuel relative to energy output during a typical training session. Get this right and you will recover better, balance your energy more effectively, and be on the road to optimal body composition.
These are the calories taken in during daily meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks). The goal for proper nutrition is to provide the calories and nutrients required to keep us healthy and performing in daily life. Nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables and lean proteins are critical during this part of caloric consumption. We do not consider calories taken in during and immediately following exercise as part of your nutrition. Instead, we refer to those calories as fuel.
Fueling calories are consumed just before, during, and 90120 minutes after exercise. Fueling calories play a completely different role than the calories which make up your overall nutrition.
- Proper fueling will provide the required energy necessary for the workout.
- Most of our calories in fueling are less nutrient rich but are taken to supply and replenish our primary fuel source for endurance sports glycogen.
- Glycogen refers to 'stored carbohydrates' and is our primary energy source in training and racing.
Get Fueling Right
Most people think the calories they consume during training are simply to get them through just that workout session. This is a massive mistake as fueling during and after training is critical. By fueling after training you:
- Optimize recovery from the current session
- Prepare for the upcoming sessions
- Replenish depleted fuel stores
- Avoid poor quality food cravings later
- Stop the 'stress' of exercise on the body by lowering the cortisol response.
- Support metabolic health by avoiding the physiological stress associated with athletic starvation.
- Remember, your workout is not over until you have refueled!
The Busy Triathlete Tip
It is worth noting that fueling during and immediately following your workouts will have a huge impact on your energy balance during the workday. Dial this in and workouts will have a positive impact on your ability to lead, concentrate and perform in the workplace.
Fueling Before Training
During the 15 to 60 minute window prior to a session, it is prudent to have a snack to ensure you begin on the right track. This must consist of a balance of some carbohydrate combined with some protein and a little fat. Examples are:
- A handful of trail mix
- Greek yogurt with some nuts
- Half of a protein-based energy bar (we like Picky Bars, Cliff Bars and Quest Bars)
- Banana with almond butter
Fueling After Training
If you are training for less than 60 minutes at a high intensity, or 90 minutes at a low intensity, your requirements for fueling during training are radically reduced. If you have recently eaten, you may go through the session with little to no fuel. With this said, post workout fueling remains critical no matter what. For longer sessions, it is recommended you aim to reduce your caloric deficit with consistent and frequent feedings of 3-4 kcal/kg/hour (we've done the math, see the table below).
Where To Get Your Calories
- Low Intensity: If you are operating at a training intensity of Z3 or below, (about 75% of maximal exertion) you can and should get your calories from a mixture of carbohydrate, proteins and a little fat. Examples include:
- Trail Mix
- Bars: Picky Bars, Clif Mojo, higher protein-based bars
- Mini-sandwiches with nut butter
- Bites of potatoes with salt and oil
- High Intensity: If you are operating at a higher intensity (track-based run sessions, tougher pool sessions or hill repeats on the bike) or are in the later stages of extended endurance, you should shift to a pure carbohydrate fuel source. This includes:
- Cliff Bloks / Chews
- Jelly beans or gummy bears
- Note: Caffeine added to all products is perfectly fine and a positive addition
The Busy Triathlete Tip
The 0-30 minute window is critical for busy professionals. The goal is to minimize the consequences of training stress in order to maximize training benefit.
Fueling After Training
Whether you have fueled during the training session or not, you always want to ensure you refuel following. Immediately following each training session we require protein to lower cortisol and begin the recovery process, as well as some easily accessible carbohydrates to replenish energy stores.
- 0-30 Minutes Following Training: Your massive focus is to give the body protein at this stage. We must turn off the cortisol response and begin repair. Example foods might be:
- Fruit with almond butter
- High protein shake
- High protein bar (if nothing else).
- 30-120 Minutes Following Training: You now shift to a restocking of the glycogen stores so carbohydrate becomes the focus:
- High-quality carbohydrates: sweet potato, fruits, vegetables, amaranth, quinoa, etc.
- Lean proteins (chicken, fish)
- Cottage cheese, yogurt
- Vegetables and fruits
Make It A Habit
Once you enter into a positive habit of fueling your workouts, you will notice your energy balance is enhanced, training and racing performance improves, it is easier to manage body composition and you will experience fewer cravings for foods you try to avoid. This is one of the keystone habits I aim to make a priority for all of my athletes.
Last Thing: Maximize Sleep Recovery With Protein
If you are in the midst of heavy loads of training, struggle to sleep, or simply want to maximize recovery and minimize stress, then start/end your days with protein.
- 20 grams of protein before bed
- 20 grams of protein when you first wake up
This approach suppresses the negative effect of your stress hormones (such as cortisol). Look for more information in the coming weeks on nutrition, as well as the consequences of poor fueling.