Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Pit Stops: Refueling (Part II)

It’s been a while since the last post, but I hope you have been putting into practice the hydration techniques during this time.

Remember; when in doubt…drink up!
Water and more water!
(Obviously, the occasional beer and wine will keep you happy, too!)

Let’s now focus on the sources of energy during your “Pit Stops”, glucose and fats, and we’ll leave the third and final part of these series of blogs to the amino acids.


Have you ever seen a car running without fuel?

Me neither.

But that is what some people pretend to do with their own bodies during training and races. And then they wonder why they are not able to finish their races, or why they have to slow down so much.

What is happening is that their gas tank is just empty, and their engines are running just on fumes. They have skipped their needed “Pit Stops”, and now they are paying the price.

Without glucose, which is the primary and fastest source of fuel, your body simply stops. It is no longer able to move properly, and it is not able to transform other sources of energy like fat.

To avoid that, you have to make sure that there is enough glucose in your body to keep you moving. Otherwise, you have to consume sugars and carbohydrates (they will be transformed into glucose in your body) to support you during training and racing

a.            Eat moderate amounts of carbohydrates (brown rice/ pasta/ bread, potatoes, etc) and lots of fruits and vegetables in your meals to keep the glucose levels in your body (stored as “glycogen” in muscles and liver) to the maximum.
b.            If you are about to do a long or highly intense workout or race, make sure that you have eaten a bit of carbohydrates at least 2 hours before starting.
c.            If you are racing or training for more than an hour, make sure that you are taking energy gels, honey, sports drinks or any other liquid sugar after the first half hour, and keep doing it at regular intervals. Avoid solid food if you are doing highly intense activities, as you will have a difficult time digesting it.
d.            Immediately after you have finished a long race (longer than one hour) drink your water and eat carbohydrates and simple sugars. Drinking a sports beverage is a good idea as it contains lots of sugar, besides the water and minerals needed to rehydrate you.

Well, now you know that replenishing glucose is fundamental if you are training and/or racing for more than an hour and at intense levels. However, you have to keep in mind a couple of warning points:

  1. Do not eat or drink anything when you are exerting yourself at maximum levels. If you are gasping for air and you eat/ drink at the same time, your stomach will not be able to digest food properly and you will end up with an upset stomach. Thus, if you are pushing hard, take a few moments to slow down a bit to ingest your food or drink your beverage.
  2. Additional sugar and carbs are not needed if you are not training hard or racing for a long period. The reserves in your body, created from your normal meals (mainly from eating fruits and vegetables), are enough to keep you moving. Do not eat additional carbs or take any sports drinks or gels if you are not working out much. You will only end up creating an insulin spike (see the blog post "Understanding the Vicious Cycle"), which will only make you fat!

Have you seen marathon runners with a big belly and lots of bodyfat? Well, that’s because they have eaten too much carbs thinking that they need a kilo of pasta and tons of bread every time they train.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Find the right balance of carbs needed to support your long and intense training and racing. If you avoid emptying your muscle and liver reserves of glycogen, you will recover much faster and you will be able to train and race hard again in no time.


You might think, “why do I need fat if I want to be lean and athletic”?

Well, you need fat in your diet to be lean and athletic, but most importantly to be healthy.

Fats are fundamental to support your hormonal systems and to repair your cell membranes. They also help you avoid peaks in blood sugar levels, so your energy levels are more constant. Finally, they are the most concentrated form of energy that is stored in your body and which can provide calories for you for days even if you ran out of food.

Fat is the ultimate source of energy for survival when there is no food available.

You need to eat good fats (olive oil, nuts, fish oil – omega 3, flaxseed oil, etc) during your normal meals, to support your health. Without these fats, your hormonal system will not work properly and your cell membranes will be weaker.

The other benefit of fat is that it slows down the process of food being converted into glucose. The slower the process, the more constant the levels of energy and the less insulin there is circulating in your body. With normal or low levels of insulin, you are more able to use fat as fuel and you end up becoming a lean machine!

Keep in mind, however, that you do not need extra fat during your training or racing. Different to glucose, which is stored only in limited amounts in the body, we all have already a lot of fat in our bodies to survive for several days.

a.            Consume your good fats during your meals: extra virgin olive oil as salad dressing, or eat cold water fish like salmon or sardines.  
b.            Use nuts as snacks. Instead of cookies or candy bars, replace them with a fistful of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, etc). Just avoid the salty and fried types. Go natural!
c.            Do not consume fats during your training or racing, as they are slow to digest and you might end up with an upset stomach. Besides, you do not need to replace fats during racing as you have huge reserves in your body, as said before.

Although fats are highly important, you must be careful with the quantities. Fats are high in calories, so make sure you consume them in all your meals and snacks, but in small quantities.

If you follow your appetite, you will eat small portions, as fat satiates your hunger almost immediately and for long periods of time. In other words, your body knows when to stop eating. You just have to listen to it!

Well, now you know how to keep your Perfect Machine running fast and recovering even faster with the proper Pit Stops to rehydrate you and fill your tank. 

Next time, we’ll cover how to eat protein (i.e. amino acids) to keep  your moving parts and organs strong and healthy.

Remember; keep your tank full, but do not overload it!

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