It can literally take me up to 5km to finish one gel shot. I know… It’s supposed to be the kind of fuel you just knock back and I’ve seen many people shoot them like it was their favorite flavor of juice. I don’t know whether it’s the texture or taste, but for me it’s more like shooting back thick molasses that always happens to be the flavor of the very food I am NOT craving at the time (or even the flavor of something that isn’t even a food! Who has ever actually eaten a “lemon lime” or a “blue raspberry”?!). I’ll admit – I have been saved by various gels, gummies and blocks all boasting to be the most effective way of maintaining energy during exercise. These are all great products that are convenient to buy, easy to pack and will certainly provide many athletes with the energy they need to continue to push themselves. However, in my mind and in understanding the sensitivity of my stomach during high physical output – it makes a lot more sense to me to be giving my body food it recognizes so, rather than grabbing at the quick sugars in an electric colored gel, it receives recognizable food and knows exactly what to do with it.
This week’s challenge is to understand whether you consume pre-packaged foods out of convenience or because they actually work for your body. If they don’t, let’s challenge ourselves to fuel our exercise based on ingredients and not on packaging.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind when considering your fueling choices:
- It is important to understand when you actually need to eat something. I think this is likely unique to each person – depending on your eating habits as well as energy output. If you’re exerting yourself for long periods of time, consuming energy-rich foods is likely very important. However, if you are eating regularly and are exercising in low to moderate amounts, you might not actually need to fuel your body more than your regular meals. To reference the Skratch Lab team again – first ask do you really need to eat that? They even say that in some situations, we would be better off to not eat anything while exercising!
- When we exercise, fat and carbs are going to be what is used most – this means almost no protein is used up! If you’re doing high intensity exercise (this would be your speedwork, hill repeats, fast and short runs) you’ll be burning through your body’s carbohydrate stores. If you’re exercising at low intensities (for instance, your longer runs, cruisy bike rides, hikes) you’ll be burning through fat stores. Something to pay attention to here is that your sugar stores are what really become depleted during exercise – your fat stores generally do all right. Anybody who has experienced a “bonk” knows that your glycogen (sugar) bank needs to maintain a good balance – once you’re “in debt” (once you’ve spent all your sugar) things start to go downhill and your performance will be compromised. An interesting fact in light of this is that as we become more fit, our bodies will resort to using fat stores more… meaning we can conserve glycogen stores!
To calculate what you need to eat:
(Total calories from fat + total calories from stored glycogen) – calories burned.
If there’s a deficit, it means you need to eat! If there isn’t, you are good to go.
Skratch lab’s rule of thumb:
“For activities lasting more than 2 hours, if you eat at least half the calories you burn each hour, you’ll almost always be consuming an adequate number of calories to keep you going”
(Calculating how many calories you burn per hour is tricky business. I am sure there are many sources you could use to determine this – just make sure you trust who the information is coming from!)
For great recipes for real food fueling, I often refer to a couple cookbooks:
- The Runner’s World Cookbook
- Feed Zone Portables by Biju Thomas and Allen Lim
Over the next week I will be posting some easy recipes for real food fueling. Stay tuned and happy running!