Would you like to knock 30 minutes off your Taupo lap time? Studies have shown that when you consume carbohydrates optimally during endurance exercise, performance is improved by about 10%. That’s about 30 minutes over five hours. That’s 30 minutes less pain. That’s 30 minutes more time spent wallowing in your glory. Best of all, it’s actually pretty easy. Let me explain.
Step 1- Realise that this doesn’t just apply to event day.
Consuming carbohydrates during training will also improve the quality of these training sessions, meaning that you will get bigger fitness gains, and will turn up on event day fitter and faster than you would otherwise.
Once exercise goes for longer than 90 minutes, the evidence is clear that consuming carbohydrates aids performance. This means that for most of your long rides you should be consuming carbs to ensure high quality training sessions. Furthermore, consuming carbs during these sessions also means that you are increasing your ability to tolerate carbs during exercise, which means you can have more carbs on race day (and perform better).
Taking on carbs during training also means that you have practised your event day strategy, meaning that you know what will work for you, what flavours you like, what textures you like, and how much you can handle.
Remember the Trailblazer Nutrition Golden Rule. This is perhaps its most important application. Whilst consuming carbs during exercise can improve performance, if you have not practised during training, consuming carbs for the first time on event day can result in all sorts of tummy troubles. Best to start now and reduce the chance of your fastest split being during your sprint to the portaloo.
Step 2 – Decide how much will you consume
Optimal carbohydrate consumption is about 80g of carbohydrates per hour. Now this takes some building up to, so it is really important that you start easy, and slowly increase as your training progresses. If you’ve never used carbs before, it might be a matter of having just one gel and seeing how you like it, or drinking Powerade (which will be at the course aid stations) as your drink.
Step 3 - Pick your poison.
Do you prefer gels, bars, lollies, or real food? Do you like carbs in your sports drink? Or just water? You need to have figured this out prior to event day so you know exactly what you are having. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, so you may need to trial a few different options to decide what works for you.
So what does this look like in practise?
You should take your first hit of carbs after about 20 minutes, and then every 20-30 minutes after that. You will likely tolerate the food better in small, frequent doses, rather than one large amount every hour.
To get you started, here is a couple of examples. The first table is how to fuel a training session of 90 minutes duration with 45g of carbohydrate per hour, using 600mls per hour of water or sports drink. The second table is how to fuel a training session of 3 hours duration, aiming for 75g of carbohydrate per hour. A “25g carbohydrate equivalent” is any food/gel that provides 25g of carbohydrates.
What about Fluid?
Your fluid intake depends on a few factors, so it is difficult to make recommendations for a large group. I recommend a minimum of 600mls per hour during exercise, and more on warmer and humid days, longer training sessions, and if you are naturally a heavy sweater. “Drinking to thirst” is a popular concept at the moment, and you should certainly be paying attention to what your body is telling you, and acting on that, but studies have shown that relying only on your perception of thirst can lead to drinking less than what is optimal.
As you can well imagine, fuelling for exercise is an intricate topic so feel free to check out my affordable personalised nutrition plans.
In the mean time, I hope training is going awesome!