Has it ever happened to you? You’re moving along nicely during a long WOD or a competition, performing well, feeling great, when all of a sudden, you start feeling… not so great. You’re energy fails, taking your performance with it. If it’s just a training day, it’s not so big of a deal—except it can leave you feeling physically bad. When it happens during competition or a long endurance event, it can be costly. Don’t let poor fueling be your downfall.

 As Team WOD Talk is preparing to take on World’s Toughest Mudder, along with researching how a bunch of CrossFitters should be training for a long endurance event we’re also investigating and experimenting with how to best fuel during a long effort. To help us, I turned to an expert in the field of marathons and marathon training—Angie Spencer, coach and founder of the Marathon Training Academy. Her advice is applicable for not just our 24-hour World’s Toughest Mudder effort, but also for CrossFit competitions, which typically involve several WODs over a day or two.

Along with coaching individual clients who are looking to compete for the first time or improve a previous marathon, Angie and her husband, Trevor, host the Marathon Training Academy podcast where they interview experts, discuss their own experience in training and racing, and dish out helpful advice on everything from nutrition to mental toughness. Angie is an RN, a RRCA and USATF Certified Coach, who has completed 7 marathons (including 3 ultra marathons) this year alone and more than 30 total marathons since 2008.

I interviewed Angie to get her advice on how to fuel for an endurance event.

Start Fueling Early

Angie recommends fueling early and often. In other words—if you wait until you start feeling lightheaded or a lack of energy, you’ve waited too long. At that point, it’s hard to get back on track. Most runners, she said, should consume anywhere from 150-250 calories per hour of running; however, pace and effort level will determine how much your body can digest.

Today, most runners turn to the easy to digest and easy to carry packets of gels or chews. While those are convenient and provide a quick source of energy, I’ve personally found my stomach doesn’t tolerate the flood of simple sugars. The other problem is that those same simple sugars that bring a burst of energy also cause major blood sugar and energy swings.

Those energy, blood sugar and mood swings are among the reasons I’ve shifted to a high fat, low carb diet. I’m curious as to just how to fuel for a longer endurance event on a high fat diet, when traditional wisdom suggests it can’t be done without a high amount of carbs. Fortunately, Angie takes a sensible approach. She says, “I’ve found that many endurance athletes (especially women) need a somewhat higher percentage of carbs in the days leading up to a race. Eating more fruit and starchy vegetables can be a great way to give your body more of the energy it needs. One of the great things about following a low carb/high fat diet is that your body is even more sensitive to the effect of carbohydrates (which means a little goes a longer way than for someone who eats a high carb diet).” She suggests practicing fueling for the particular competition before the actual event to find out exactly what foods and in what amounts each individual’s body prefers. Angie says that it’s important to fuel with an adequate supply of carbs, but balance is key.

For my own training, after struggling with an upset stomach and “bonking” (feeling completely depleted and drained of energy) while using gels during marathons and longer obstacle course races, I began experimenting with eating higher fat, whole foods on the run. I’ve found great success using packets of honey almond butter, lightly sweetened flavored almonds, and food bars, such as the Perfect Bar.

Fuel during a long event must be paired with adequate hydration. When people think about the dangers associated with hydration issues, most think in terms of dehydration. However, taking too much fluid can be just as dangerous. Hyponatremia results when the amount of sodium in the blood has been diluted due to drinking too much water. Fluid intake must be monitored carefully. Angie suggests consuming approximately 16-26 oz. of fluids per hour. However, that depends on the temperature and on the individual’s sweat rate. Some people excrete more sodium than others when exercising and so would need to consume more sodium. Eating salty foods during the race or competition can replenish some sodium, but taking an electrolyte supplement can help keep the body balanced.

Plan for success

The most important strategy for properly preparing for any competition or race is to have a plan for success—one that has been tested. Find out what foods provide sufficient energy without weighing you down. Certain foods might be favorites when watching an athletic event; however, those same foods might disturb your stomach under the added stress of intense physical activity. Always experiment. Don’t just rely on the advice from others. Discover what works for you.

Be sure to check out more excellent advice from Angie Spencer and follow her marathon adventures at: http://marathontrainingacademy.com/

 

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