When was the last time that you showed up to your “A” race of the season without having trained? Most times, a successful race result doesn’t come from winging it on race day. Successful results are reaped from intentional training. If intentional training is so necessary, why leave race day fueling to chance?
If I asked you to tell me how much carbohydrate you personally need per hour to keep your energy levels steady, could you answer? Can you tell me exactly what your sweat rate is? Do you know if you are a heavy sweater? A salty sweater? How do you know? EVERY endurance athlete should be able to answer these nutritional questions before race day, but so many leave this critical part of racing to chance.
What if I asked you, when was the last time that you bonked in a workout or race? Can you remember a specific time this happened? Can you remember a specific time that you got dehydrated during a workout or race? If yes, the hard truth is that you are doing something wrong. Endurance athletes should neither be bonking nor allowing themselves to become dehydrated. Finishing a race or workout depleted and dehydrated does not mean that the race or workout went well. Instead, it means that you got your nutrition wrong, and it likely costed you a better result.
Bonking should not happen. It only happens to athletes who do not prepare. It happens to athletes that may be smart enough to train for their race, but still dumb enough to ignore an enormous part of the race; nutrition.
If you are one of these people that got it wrong, know that we’ve been wrong together. We have ALL been wrong before. For some, just one failed workout or race due to nutrition will be the catalyst to wise up. For others, spinning their wheels with repeated failed efforts leaves them puzzled. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, every athlete has room to optimize their fueling in order to perform to their potential on race day.
Proper nutrition (aka “fueling”) refers to consuming carbohydrate AND fluid often enough to maintain a constant blood sugar level and adequate hydration.
How much carbohydrate is enough? How much fluid will keep you out of dehydration? How much sodium will prevent cramping? How often should you eat and drink? What products should you use?
Your personal sweat rate is a critical number that influences how much liquid and sodium you need to consume to replenish fluid loss during your effort, all to avoid dehydration.
Painting a picture, by the numbers:
Athletes can lose (roughly) up to 2% of their body weight in fluid loss before their performance is negatively affected by dehydration. Therefore, a 175-pound person can only lose about 3.5 pounds of sweat before they will suffer performance consequences.
3.5 pounds may sound significant, but this translates to just 56oz. Many athletes sweat out more than 56oz of fluid in one hour, especially in warm environments. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some athletes to enter a state of dehydration, and thus suffer performance consequences, after just 1 hour of training (without fluid consumption).
Determining your sweat rate can be done a variety of ways. A good coach will be able to help you measure your sweat rate, then make consumption calculations based on your race distance, your sweat rate, and your weight. All this will help you to form a fueling plan that will keep you far from dehydration, and instead optimize your performance.
First figure out how much you need, then how much you can currently handle (without GI distress), and finally practice your fueling often so that you can handle as much as you need. Surprise -- both our legs and our stomachs need training!
Calculating how much carbohydrate needed will vary between each person, and vary with lean body mass. If you plan to devise a self-made fueling strategy, a general rule of thumb for carbohydrate calculation is to multiply your body weight by 0.6. For example, a 175-pound person would need roughly 105 grams of carbohydrate per hour -- that is 420 calories per hour.
This number may sound high, and it certainly is if you fuel your workouts with water and no other calories. Transitioning from water-only to 420 calories an hour will cause GI distress. As mentioned earlier, train your stomach, ease into it.
Finally, for those reaching for calculators now, remember that 0.6 x body weight is only a general base line. Athletes with high sweat rates often consume far more than this baseline. Start somewhere, test it out, then tune and refine to find what prepares you to perform at your best.
Proper fueling can, and will, be the difference between a good endurance race and a bad one – do not leave it up to chance. Make a plan, stick to it. Adapt if necessary.
Remember that we are athletes, not robots or excel spreadsheets. Remember that every race will present a different environment, and our needs can change as we develop our fitness. When dialing in fueling plans, sometimes a little trial and error does the trick, and sometimes it helps to hire a professional.
Effectively using the variables and strategies described above should have you heading in to your next “A” race – or any race or training session, for that matter – with a locked in fueling strategy. You should have practiced and come prepared to execute your fueling strategy as a critical portion of your complete race plan, priming you for your best performance possible.