Endurance Athlete Dr. Ginsberg Discusses the Stages of Fueling to Prevent Bonking and Enhance Recovery for Your Next Workout!

by dr.g

Many of you are now beginning the heart of your distance training programs. Once you start running consistently for longer than 75-90 minutes fueling becomes increasingly more important. Making mistakes before during and after these workouts will diminish performance over time and could lead to premature injury.

There are 5 stages of fueling. The goal of proper fueling is to prepare the body for the workout to come, prevent bonking and enhance performance during the workout, and to recover sufficiently so you can perform your next workout at or near 100%

Stage 1 Eating before exercise:    Preferably all solid food is ingested  2.5- 3 hours prior to long run or event. The  farther away (2.5 or more hours) ideally the  less glycemic load of the meal. Make sure to  include protein. Eating solids too close to an event, within one hour, increases the risk of having stomach issues. Regardless of how many hours prior to the workout you are eating, it is best to  avoid fiber on race day so you are not running to the bathroom in the middle of the race. Just prior to the race, the mission is to  top off your glycogen stores (this is sugar that is stored in the muscle which is utilized first during aerobic activity).Ideally, 100-150 calories about 15 minutes prior to race or event does the trick.

Stage 2 (Eating or ingesting calories during exercise) –  the hotter the temperature the more  liquid calories become the ideal fuel source. Most people can only absorb 150-250 calories per hour. Find out by trial and error in training your limit or ideal so you don’t bonk during the race. If you weigh over 200 pounds you may be able to ingest 300-350 calories. As you experiment during training, if you ever feel like fluid is sloshing around in your  belly  than you most likely drank too much. Stop drinking for several miles and slow down or walk if you have to continuing to try and restart with slow jogging. Gels, blocks, gus, Gatorade and other hydration drinks  all provide rapidly absorbing sugar. DO NOT   take energy drinks and gels at same time. Space them out between several aid stations.

Stage 3 this is the most critical stage: Stage 3 is the first 30 minutes  after you have exercised. This is the stage that most often gets skipped, especially from new runners. During the first 30 minutes post exercise your muscles are most receptive to absorbing sugar. Ideally  liquid carbohydrates are ingested and if your workout has exceeded one hour than you ideally want to ingest a recovery drink with a 4:1 carbohydrate/protein ratio. Chocolate milk has this profile but honestly it is not the best recovery drink available. If there isn’t anything else, it is fine but there are much better options.

Once again, the first 30 minutes post exercise  is the time our bodies are  most receptive to carbohydrates. If you are going to stray a bit with a food that is not very nutrient dense but has good carbohydrate/protein ratio, this would be the time (e.g. chocolate milk, bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter,etc.).

There are 5 goals of stage 3.  1) replace carbohydrates   2) rehydrate your body   3) replace amino acids the building blocks for muscular repair 4)replace electrolytes which allow your muscles to contract properly (fruit or fruit juice is a good choice)    5) reduce acidity from exercise (reducing acidity decreases inflammation) If you don’t eat enough alkaline foods in your daily diet (lots of fresh fruits and vegetables) your body neutralizes acids with calcium from your bones and with  nitrogen from your muscles. Obviously, you can see how a poor diet outside of running can contribute to inflammation and injury.  Fueling in this stage should  be mostly liquids!

Stage 4- This stage continues for as long as you exercised (e.g. 2 hour run= 30 minutes for stage 3, and 90 minutes for  stage 4.  Continue to eat carbs and protein gradually adding in more solid food and drinking fluid to rehydrate. The foods ingested now can typically be higher in starch and glycemic load than the foods ingested in stage 5.

Stage 5—Stage 5 is everything after stage 4 and before stage 1. It is daily life. In my opinion, other than stage 3, this is where most people blow it. Typically because they justify eating foods with little to no nutritional value in this stage because they just ran 20 miles yesterday. This kind of thinking will ultimately lead to poor health and diminished performance. Focus on good nutrition every day. This doesn’t mean you can’t splurge, but keep track of the times you are veering from good nutrition rather than blindly justifying poor eating choices because you are marathon training. Don’t eat the same high starch foods like you are in stages 3 and 4. Ideally, always consume nutrient dense foods first. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, and consuming healthy fats tends to push the body to a more alkaline state which keeps inflammation low. After a healthy meal with the above choices then you can consider a less healthy food for dessert or snack.  Unfortunately many athletes consume a diet of highly acidic foods (sugar, pasta, white and wheat flour, alcohol, fried food, cocoa). These types of foods contribute to more acidity in the blood which ultimately reduces performance, causes more soreness and often delays recovery from injury.

In conclusion, all the stages are important for performance and proper recovery, but most importantly to maintain good health. Take a look at what stages you might not be doing the best job at and then focus on trying to improve your eating/calorie consumption for that stage first. If you need help or have questions, or are currently injured feel free to email me at daveg@kidchiro.com.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Berendt December 29, 2016 at 3:28 pm

Would these stages apply to a high school distance group track member?


dr.g May 2, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Yes they would apply to a High School athlete and in fact, I think a lot of High School Athletes could get more out of themselves if they watched what they put into their bodies more closely.


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