Training: Less than 1 hour
If we are training for less than one hour, our muscles generally have enough glycogen (aka fuel) on board so refuelling isn’t of high importance and water will keep you nice and hydrated. The exception being if it is a high-intensity session, or during a heavy phase of your training e.g. leading up to an event. Then you will benefit from either using sports drink or a readily available source of carbohydrate such as gels, chews or lollies. The reason you need quick sugar is because we need to match the fast rate that your muscles are using it. The end result, you will be able to put more into your efforts/session and see enhanced training adaptations at the end of it. You will also benefit from a faster recovery and be ready to roll by the time the next session comes around. Sports drink is a fantastic choice because its quick to drink, hydrates you while providing quick carbs and key electrolytes to your muscles. If you prefer to use other sources of carbohydrate, check they contain electrolytes such as sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium to help prevent cramping and fatigue. Short and hard sessions are also a great time to test out supplements before race day as you will fairly quickly get the idea of how certain products/brands sit with you. So play around until you find a brand and type that works for you. Training / Events: More than 1 hour
If your session is upwards of one hour then you need to look at incorporating a nutrition strategy into the mix. Again, this is where a varied approach can be taken by mixing up food choices depending on the session. The general rule of thumb is that we require between 30 – 60g of carbohydrate per hour during endurance training.
The larger your body mass, or the longer your event, you may require up to 90g carbs per hour to keep up with your bodies rate of consumption. This can make things complex, and no one wants to have to pull out the calculator half way through a run to work out the grams of carbohydrate per half of muesli bar they just ate! So remember it is just a guide to encourage you to get to know the nutrition panel on the back of the fuel you train and race with.
Tip: If you're choosing a packaged food, check the 100g column on the label and aim for options with <10g (10%) fat total and <5g (5%) of fibre. Endurance Training / Events: More than 3 hours
- Starting with hydration, a sports drink should definitely be on your shopping list and you need to be aiming for 500 – 750ml per hour of exercise to stay properly hydrated. Not only will the hydration and electrolyte aspect prevent fatigue, you will also automatically get about half the amount of carbohydrate your muscles need per hour.
- Longer sessions also provide a perfect opportunity to test out race day food choices and supplements, don’t be afraid to change a brand or type of supplement if it isn’t working for you. Remember race day is not the time for this so experiment during training!
- Real food should not be overlooked in training (or racing) and you may just surprise yourself with the results you get from using it as fuel. I get so many clients who report stomach issues or fatigue they have experienced race after race, only to find switching to real food instantly solves the missing piece of the puzzle.
- A good place to begin is to choose foods that are low in fat, protein and fibre. This means they will be high in carbohydrate and also faster to digest so won’t hang around in your stomach for too long. Examples tend to be more refined foods such as white breads, bars or spreads.
In addition to the information above, during longer events (3 hours plus) you may also want to include small amounts of protein or fat into your nutrition to support extended muscle use and combat hunger. Options are not limited to sweet foods and savoury ideas like pizza breads or baked potatoes can be a welcomed change for the taste buds.
'Real' food suggestions:
Carbohydrate (low fat, fibre and protein)
- White or fruit bread, bagels, pikelets or loaves
- Honey or jam type spreads
- Muesli bars
Carbohydrate (plus fat and protein)
- Baked potatoes (bacon, ham or cheese fillings) ...yes, people really do eat baked potatoes and pizza while out biking or running!!
- Sandwiches with Nutella or Peanut butter (better still, both!)
These are just suggestions and is not a limited list of potential race day food. The idea is to give you guidance and suggestions to help you navigate around the supermarket aisles as you prepare for your big day. Good luck!
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Marewa Sutherland is a degree qualified Sports & Exercise Nutritionist (BAppSc University of Otago), elite road cyclist and is co-founder of PURE Sports Nutrition. Marewa regularly consults with clients on personalised sports & exercise nutrition requirements. Find out more about booking a nutrition consultation and receive a written, personalised plan to suit your training, race day or lifestyle nutrition needs and goals.
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Choosing food for your body (fuel) can be a complex process, both in training and again on race day. So our own Sport & Exercise Nutritionist, Marewa Sutherland, has put together some tips to help you out. It's important to remember that there are many differentials to take into account such as gender, size, muscle mass, fitness level, training conditions and of course sport of choice, so what works for one person may not be best suited to you. This is intended as a general guide. So keep an open mind as you read through Marewa's suggestions and try out a few to see what works best for you (before race day!).