You would think that after, oh, 25 years of endurance training and running (not to mention writing about it for a living), I would have my compound sports nutrition. And honestly, I thought I did. It was until a few years ago in Kansas, at mile 160 of the Dirty Kanza, when I found myself swamped by a wave of nausea and vomiting on the side of my bike.
I had gone from feeling really good to feeling really horrible in what seemed like a flick of a switch – that same switch also cut my power, leaving me to crawl until I finally hit a power station. help, where a cola and food helped me soldier to the end. It wasn’t my first race day food debacle, but it was by far the most surprising. Frustrated and baffled, I sat down with Boulder sports physiologist Allen Lim, Ph.D., to dive into all the ways we mess up our fueling and what we can do to dial in our nutrition for peak performance.
Failure: Flubbing Your Fluids
Let’s start in Kansas. Lim says what probably happened was a case of dehydration, malaise from the heat, and possibly hyponatremia. I had eaten enough, but ran out of fluids about 150 miles away. I wasn’t thirsty, so I thought it would be okay. Wrong. The two major mistakes I made there are common:
Underestimate the needs: “Dehydration can alter the integrity and function of the small intestine, as can heat stress,” says Lim. “It can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal upset. ”
Overlooking sodium: You can get dehydrated without feeling thirsty because thirst is your body’s way of maintaining sodium balance in the blood, not necessarily hydration. When you lose water throughout the day, the sodium level in your blood rises, so you drink more to lower it. When you sweat both water and sodium, you actually need less water to maintain a relative sodium balance, so your thirst may not require you to drink as much as you need to keep up. total blood volume.
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The solution: limit your losses
You can’t replace every ounce of fluid you lose with plain water if you’re also losing salt, but try to limit your sweat loss to no more than 3% of your body weight, or around four and a half pounds. for a 150- pound rider. Weigh yourself before and after a few workout rides to estimate your hourly sweat rate, then plan your hydration to control overall loss.
Then, to get your thirst mechanism to work for you – and to get you to drink enough – replace the salt you lose, Lim says, noting that on average, cyclists lose about 500 mg per pound of sweat loss. A hydrating sports drink with a healthy dose of sodium (300 to 400 mg of sodium per 16 fluid ounces of water) as well as the food you eat will do the trick.
Failure: carbohydrate control
My biggest nutritional mistake on race day was at Absa Cape Epic, an arduous mountain bike stage race in South Africa. I knew I would need lots of fluids and fuel, so I filled my bottles with a high-carb energy drink and took in around 900 calories in the first few hours. It was as if I had swallowed a Molotov cocktail as I rushed towards the bushes 40 miles down the road. A huge misstep here: Incoming carbs were superior to outgoing carbs. It was a revealing lesson, with two important points namely:
Your stomach is a guardian: As a reservoir that holds food and drink, your stomach digests what you eat and dumps it into your small intestine. Liquids and gels pass faster than solids.
Your gut is a circulation agent: Like a ramp to your bloodstream, your gut only lets through a limited amount of fuel at a time before you run into a traffic jam. This is when you experience gastrointestinal distress or bowel rot. In extreme cases, the traffic cop will send this saved traffic to the next exit. Nobody wants that.
The solution: refuel with wisdom
You don’t need to stuff yourself like a Thanksgiving turkey to avoid bumping into yourself, Lim says. “As a general rule of thumb, replace about half of what you burn per hour for trips longer than three or four hours to keep fuel levels low.” (The average cyclist burns about 500 calories per hour.)
For long events, avoid freezes. In fact, you want real food that fills your stomach and can flow slowly so it doesn’t hit your guts, Lim says. Real food, like a PB&J, is the ticket here. And do yourself a favor by eating enough carbohydrates before an event, so you can start with full glycogen stores. Then keep them styled.
With a liquid diet, drink slowly or look for a product designed to work with your stomach and intestines. Always test it before relying on it for a key event.
You also need to consider the health of your gut. A healthy gut biome protects against gut rot during exercise. A recent study showed that marathon runners taking probiotic supplements for four weeks had fewer gastrointestinal issues on race day. “Incorporate fermented foods rich in probiotics such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha into your regular diet,” says nutritionist Lim.
Training your gut as diligently as you train your muscles is an often overlooked but important part of the equation for peak performance. By training to eat and drink on long trips, you can improve absorption and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal problems. Because when it comes to long days on the bike, you’re not as strong as your stomach.
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