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Energy Gels: A Great Tasting Way to Sustain Energy

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Energy Gels: A Great Tasting Way to Sustain Energy

Energy Gel Introduction

Many endurance athletes are discovering that energy gels are a better way to receive the carbohydrates needed to sustain their energy levels during endurance activities. Energy gels are easy to use, quick to digest and with great tasting flavors like CarbBoom!'s Vanilla Orange, Apple Cinnamon and Grape Pomegranate, there is no need to compromise on taste.

Energy Gels Overview

What are energy gels?

Energy gels are best described as a hybrid of sports drinks and energy bars. Combining aspects of both, gels are power packed with a super concentrated dose of carbohydrates contained in a palatable and viscous consistency. Because of their quick absorption into the bloodstream, gels are preferred by many athletes since they are quick acting and are not “heavy on the stomach.” Energy gels are less likely to cause gastrointestinal distress which can sometimes be associated with drinks or bars.

The majority of energy gels are sold in 1.1 to 1.9 oz. flexible packets (CarbBoom! Energy Gels® are slightly larger at 1.4oz.). Depending on the brand, gels provide 90 to 110 calories per serving and between 20 to 28 grams of carbohydrates. Each serving of gel provides enough ‘fuel’ to supply about 30-45 minutes of energy during physical activity.

Energy Gel Comparison

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Fats and carbohydrates are the two best sources of energy found in the human body. Fat is the largest source, while carbohydrate stores lag behind significantly. Carbohydrates, however, provide the best and most readily available source of energy for the body during exercise.

A 150 lb. person with 15 percent body fat has a large amount of energy stored as fat. If a person of this size did not ingest any food during exercise and if fat were the only fuel used during exercise, stored fat could support physical activity for almost seven days! If however, we take the same 150 lb. person and if carbohydrates were the only fuel used during moderate exercise, carbohydrate stores would only support physical activity for about two hours.  Unfortunately, fat is not able to support exercise above a very moderate level (>60% VO2max) due to the slowness of fat mobilization and other limiting factors. Since most athletes train at intensities higher than this, a supply of fuel other than fat must be available to the body. This preferred energy source is carbohydrate.

Carbohydrate is found in the body in two main forms, glycogen and glucose. Glycogen is a highly branched molecule made up of multiple glucose units and is stored in muscle and liver cells. Glucose, the body’s preferred energy source, is found in blood. Because we have limited stores of carbohydrates and because carbohydrates are the best energy source during moderate to heavy exercise, it is imperative that carbohydrates be ingested during exercise in order to perform at the highest levels possible.

So how does carbohydrate ingestion improve endurance performance?

During activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, glycogen levels begin to diminish. There is a progressive shift from muscle glycogen over to blood glucose as the body’s primary fuel source. When muscle glycogen levels are low, the consumption of carbohydrate serves to maintain proper levels of blood glucose and delay the onset of fatigue. In addition to this mechanism, carbohydrate ingestion also exerts its benefits at higher intensities of exercise by delaying and/or preventing muscle glycogen depletion (otherwise known as glycogen sparing).

When should energy gels be used and how often should they be consumed?

Energy gels can benefit competitive athletes, recreational athletes, diabetics and anyone else looking for a quick source of energy. They are ideal for sports like triathlons, running, cycling, swimming, tennis, soccer, football….the list goes on and on. In order to gain the performance advantage of carbohydrates, it is recommended that ~30-60 grams be consumed per hour during physical activity. This translates into one to two servings of energy gels during each hour of exercise.

For first time gel users, determining the optimal timing and amount of energy gel to take can be confusing. As a general rule, it is recommended the following ‘dose schedule’ be used as a guide.

For activity lasting less than two hours:

Consume one energy gel 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the activity. Take a second energy gel 45-60 minutes into the activity (during half time of the soccer match, at the three to four mile mark of the half marathon, etc).

For activity lasting more than two hours:

Consume one energy gel 15-30 minutes prior to the start of the activity. Consume one energy gel one hour into the activity. Take subsequent gels every 30-45 minutes for the duration of exercise.

Tips and tricks to remember:

Find an energy gel and a flavor which tastes great to you since you'll be using them successively on sizzling hot, humid days, cold rainy mornings and every kind of weather in between. Look for gels which contain real fruit (like CarbBoom! Enery Gels) rather than just artificial flavorings because it makes sense to consume a gel your taste buds will enjoy as much as your working muscles.

Keep in mind that every athlete is different. You’ll need to experiment to find your body’s optimal regimen for gel intake. Pack energy gels with you on several training sessions and try taking them at different times and in different amounts to determine what system works best for you.

Water, water, water! With any type of exercise it’s very important to stay properly hydrated. Water helps replenish fluids lost from sweating and provides optimal absorption for the carbohydrates. Roughly 8 to 10 ounces of water should be consumed along with each serving of gel. Make sure to have a water bottle or time the consumption of a gel with a water source nearby.

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Half Distance Triathlon Nutrition Plan

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Half Distance Triathlon Nutrition Plan

Half Distance Triathlon Nutrition Guide

Have a big race coming up? 

Our good friends at CORE Nutrition Planning (www.fuelthecore.com) recently shared the following nutrition guidelines for athletes doing a half distance triathlon.  We thought it made so much sense that we wanted to pass along the wisdom.

You can also build your own FREE personalized nutrition plan at CORE: Sign Up

HALF DISTANCE NUTRITION GUIDE

For a half distance triathlon or other 4 to 7 hour event, nutrition can be an incredibly important factor. In shorter distance triathlons you can get away with making some nutrition mistakes, but during a half distance triathlon, it is more likely that you will be punished for nutrition errors. In fact, when you talk to athletes who did not have a good race, they will often mention nutrition as the main reason why things did not go as planned.

On this page the basics of nutrition are discussed: a few general rules of nutrition and some of the most common mistakes.

THREE MAIN NUTRITION ISSUE

The three most important nutritional issues during a half distance triathlon are:

1.    Meeting the man with the hammer: Running out of fuel, hitting the wall, bonking, or just not being able to keep up the intensity during the last part of the race.

2.    Dehydration: Becoming progressively dehydrated to an extent where this will limit performance.

3.    Stomach problems: Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps, bloating, etc. that can have a negative impact on your performance. 

FUELING

The main fuel for an event like this is carbohydrate, especially if you are completing the race closer to the 4 hour mark than the 7 hour mark. Your body stores contain roughly 500 grams of carbohydrate (this is 2000 kcal), not enough to make it to the finish line. In theory it should be enough to get most athletes through the first 3 hours of a race but topping up from the start is essential. Because it takes time for carbohydrate to be absorbed, you need to start early with fueling to make sure you avoid carbohydrate depletion. Once you run out of carbohydrate stores it is difficult to recover.

As a general rule, aim for 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. This carbohydrate can be in the form of a bar, a gel, chews, or a drink. If you use solid foods, make sure fat, protein and fiber content are low (no more than a few grams). What you use is entirely up to you and your personal preferences. Faster athletes tend to use more liquids and less solids because it can be difficult to chew at high intensities. It has also been shown that factors like fiber intake, fat intake and the use of very concentrated carbohydrate drinks are causes of gastrointestinal discomfort. So combining these three main issues, you need to plan ahead and have a rough idea where you are going to get your carbohydrate from (drinks, gels, bars), how much fluid you need to take in and where you are going to get this from (carry, special needs for feed stations) and make sure you reach approximately 60 g/hr of carbohydrate intake and enough fluid to not lose a lot of weight. You can get a good idea by weighing yourself before and after training. Think about this in advance and write down your plan.

COMMON MISTAKES ON RACE DAY

The most common mistakes are:

1.    Sticking to a plan at all costs:  If for some unforeseen reason you cannot follow the plan (you lost a bottle, or you are developing gastrointestinal problems), do not continue with the plan at all costs. Be flexible and adapt. A slightly lower intake is not going to be a problem, forcing more nutrition in will.

2.    Trying something new on race day:  Sometimes you’ll see athletes walk around expos, buying new products for the race the next day. Only use products that you have tried and tested, products you know you tolerate well.

3.    Thinking that more is better:  Drinking more and eating more is not always better. Sure, you have to take in enough energy and enough fluids, but once you achieve the basic needs, more is not necessarily better and in some cases detrimental.

A COUPLE OF EXTRA POINTS:

1.    Sodium losses in a race like this are unlikely to affect performance in the vast majority of athletes, so sodium supplementation should not be a priority. Too much might cause gastrointestinal problems.

2.    Caffeine (low dose: 3mg/kg one hour before: equivalent of a big cup of coffee or 2 espressos before the start) may help some athletes. Some athletes like it, some don’t. Experiment in training and find out what works for you.

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About Core Nutrition Planning: Founded by Sports Nutrition Scientist and Ironman athlete Asker Jeukendrup and Cyclist and Triathlete Bill Braun, CORE uses evidence-based guidelines from the latest sports nutrition research along with input from the athlete, with input about them, their event, and their preferred fuels to build personalized nutrition plans that help the athlete maximize performance.  Learn more at www.fuelthecore.com.

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Gastrointestinal problems in athletes

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Gastrointestinal problems in athletes

Number one question we are asked is how to avoid stomach issues.  Great article by Asker Jeukendrup at www.mysportscience.com.

Summary Conclusions:

In order to prevent gastrointestinal distress, a few guidelines can be provided. However, it must be noted that these are based on limited research. Nevertheless, anecdotally, these guidelines seem to be effective:

  • Avoid high-fiber foods in the day or even days before competition. For the athlete in training, a diet with adequate fiber will help keep the bowel regular.  Avoid dairy, high fat and high protein foods the day before.

  • Avoid aspirin and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Both aspirin and NSAIDs have commonly been shown to increase intestinal permeability and may increase the incidence of gastrointestinal complaints. The use of NSAIDs in the pre-race period should be discouraged, mainly for athletes with a history of gastrointestinal problems.

  • Make training with carbohydrates part of your weekly routine and train your race nutrition.

  • Avoid high-fructose foods (in particular drinks that are exclusively fructose). However, interestingly, a fructose and glucose combination may not cause problems and may be better tolerated.

  • Avoid dehydration. As dehydration can exacerbate gastrointestinal symptoms, it is important to prevent dehydration. Start the race (or training) well hydrated.

  • Ingest carbohydrates with sufficient water or choose drinks with lower carbohydrate concentrations to prevent very high concentrations and osmolalities in the stomach.

 

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