Mountain running deepest secrets #THREE
*This article is not about promoting any speciﬁc diets but to inform, educate and give you good strategies regarding fueling to maximize training adaptation and to accelerate recovery. When and what we eat, before, during and after endurance workouts has a direct impact on your health, ﬁtness, recovery and race results!
As covered in my previous article carbohydrates and fats are the main fuel we use during endurance training. The length and intensity of the training session, the fuel/energy available, and your ﬁtness level are the main factors that will inﬂuence how much of each of the energy source
will be used.
Unfortunately we can only store so little carbohydrate at a time, but we have endless fat reserve even in the very lean endurance athletes. Both fuels can be manipulated through diets and training to optimize the usage of the reserve, especially with fat. With smart intensity training (e.g. quality uphill sessions) we can increase efﬁciency and total muscle glycogen storage, so more available for the short, intense, steeper and longer climbs, for the more intense effort.
You also increase leg oxygenation with vertical training.
But it’s really through proper endurance & overdistance training that the main physiological adaptation occurs for mountain athletes; reducing dependence of carbohydrate and optimizing fat as the main fuel (see December 4th article). It’s more complex then just what you eat!
What does Fat adaptation training means?
To go longer and further while maintaining steady energy and desired pace while using fat as the main fuel.
Since glycogen is such an important fuel source for the body, which plays an important role in the contraction of muscles, depleted muscle glycogen stores can have detrimental effects on performance, and is the primary fuel source for most organs, such as the brain.
What and when we eat play a direct role in your capacity to train well, maximize training adaptations, accelerate recovery rate and to achieve greater performance.
Often overlooked, it is the golden wax of endurance athletes: No wax you don’t glide and progressively work harder just to move forward, burning more energy, with early onset fatigue and longer recovery needed.
The key during endurance training is to sustain a level of energy throughout the full length of the workout; to maintain good blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels.
The only way to achieve this is with proper fueling strategies. Before, during and shortly after workout.
If glycogen stores are not being replenished with carbohydrates from food or drinks, glycogen stores can run out. Once this occurs, the body will ﬁnd alternative ways to create more glucose. The liver will begin to break down fat and protein to form glucose, which can then be used for energy. It’s not an efﬁcient option and extremely stressful on the liver & kidney and immune system. Often when this occurs while racing or on a long training session, one key symptom, constantly having to urinate.
What and when to eat:
Lets look at the Glycemic index of food:
High glycemic food
are good before, (sometimes during) and right after exercise.
Healthy food & powder mix that provides instant energy, which we need after an intense/short effort, 1hour hill or speed session, and/or right after an endurance training session, of 2hrs+. The best is to have it in a form of powder mix, it enters your blood stream quicker.
Purpose: to bring blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels back to normal quicker and to increase recovery rate.
Few example of food: waterlemon, grapes, raisins, couscous, muesli, white potatoes.
Moderate to low glycemic food
are good before, or during long workouts.
Nutrient food that enters your blood stream slowly and can be available for longer. You can have it in form of snacks, gels or powder or all of the above, whatever best for you.
Purpose: the fuel will be available for a longer period of time, so will help sustain your desire pace with sufﬁcient energy for the distance. Find a good powder mix you like with low glycemic index for your long training runs!
Few example of food: bananas, apples, pears, carrots, sweet potatoes, yam, peas, lentils. Few protein is needed.
Example of using high, moderate, and low index for one endurance session:
You are soon heading out for a 2hrs run, feel slightly hungry but not enough to eat a meal, so either make a small smoothie or eat a snack of high index it will offer the sufﬁcient energy to get going, fuel/hydrate also ‘on the run’ with moderate to low index, it will help sustain a constant energy level. Once back, it’s a good idea to take a recovery drink that has minimum 45% of carbohydrate and about the same of protein, it will start your recovery phase of replenishing your glucose and glycogen.
With such an example it’s very important to eat a small nutrient meal within 40 minutes to 1hour post-workout so you don’t get a big drop of blood glucose and muscle glycogen.
DURING EXERCISE we need proper hydration mix with balanced carbohydrate, electrolytes & salt to maintain body water levels, minerals & vitamins, and amino acids.
Why it’s so important to eat soon after an endurance session:
Short intense workouts and long endurance sessions decreases muscle glycogen and blood glucose reserve. After a workout muscles grab glucose molecules from the bloodstream that is available. With a post-workout food intake the body insulin level rises quickly and muscles absorb carbohydrate quicker. That is only effective within the ﬁrst hour post workout. It’s important to eat soon after training and to increase recovery rate.
50% of your recovery can be achieve within the ﬁrst hour post-workout, depending of your ﬁtness level and fueling strategies the recovery rate will continue between 5-12% per hour. The ﬁtter and better you are at applying this routine the quicker you will recover
in the ﬁrst hour and per hour.
Symptoms of low blood sugar & muscle glycogen: hypoglycemia
sudden feel of low energy / ‘bonking’
Symptoms of poor fueling strategies
Constantly training with low glycogen levels or lack of fueling,
or low calorie diets, or never training with electrolytes/gels or nutrient snacks.
Feeling of heavy legs.
Pain, tightness in muscles during and/or post-workout .
No leg power/strength when training .
Ongoing musculoskeletal injuries.
IMPORTANT SCIENCE for mountain endurance athlete to understand:
In a state of hypoglycemia, the body will begin producing catabolic hormones, such as cortisol. Catabolic hormones break down muscle tissue in order to convert the proteins within to glucose. This will increase blood sugar levels and provide energy to continue exercising, however, cortisol also suppresses the immune system and puts large stress on the liver & kidneys. Also, the act of regularly breaking down muscle tissue for immediate energy during exercise can contribute to muscle atrophy, and overtime can lead to on-going overuse injuries and immune system disorders.
Combine good fitness with good eating strategies you become more efficient at absorbing sugar quicker per hour, and remember muscle can be train to store more glycogen! So able to train longer at higher intensity and recover quicker!
Examples of healthy snacks: bananas, apple, pear, orange, kiwi, avocado, ﬁgs, nuts. Some companies provide gels and snacks with the proper nutrients, make sure you read the labels, many of them are pure sugar!
Healthy salad: green leafs, nuts, dried fruits, egg, avocado, ﬁgs, tomatoes, sunﬂower seeds, extra virgin olive oil.
Recovery Tips for endurance athlete:
Right after training have a recovery drink: average 45% carbohydrate & 45% protein.
Small nutrient meal within 1 hour of workout.
Two days off in a row instead of only one.
Cold water spray daily on legs daily for average 1minute.
Legs up against wall after workout/ stretch - hold 45sec. to 1min.
When feeling low energy/tired but good enough to train, substitute a long workout for an easy/short session.
Tips for endurance events:
Know ahead of time what you will do and anticipate!
Do not use thirst, or your sweat rate to hydrate, get use to drinking regularly.
Do not wait to be hungry to eat, it’s too late by then: eat on the run
Enough water between checkpoint
Different food for extreme weather: severe heat versus cold & rain.
Ultra-events: enough calorie for the full event
Anticipate food for upset stomach, easier to digest.
What will you eat and when: e.g. diverse food & snacks
When will you reﬁll with water & electrolytes; efﬁcient ways of loading / how will you store your extra electrolytes...
Soft food is easier to digest, so stay away from raw vegetables and fruits 48hrs prior to an event.
Train smart + quality recovery + good fueling strategies = results
Practice your strategies of refueling, hydration, your goal pace and the diverse conditions you may face so you know what to expect and how your body may react.
Why is fueling & hydration strategies crucial for endurance athletes?
To maintain blood sugar and muscle glycogen level constant
To maintain core body temperature
To sustain the goal intensity level
To increase performance capacity
To increase fat adaptation
To increase recovery rate
To maintain a steady heartbeat
To enjoy great ﬁtness, energy and have fun in the mountains!
As hard as you train, you need to recover just as hard since it’s the time you are actually gaining!
Take care of your body like you take care of your bikes & skis!
Enjoy the snow, the vertical and your fitness!
Stay in touch, email me you thoughts:
Chloë is an elite multi-sport athlete with over two decades of experience competing around the world. Chloë is a consultant in sports rehabilitation & human performance teaching on an international platform. Sharing her passion, experience and knowledge is an integral part of her daily routine. In her free time, she loves skinning up mountains and skiing fresh powder. Canadian, she lives full time in Chamonix.
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