The rules of fuel
Your questions answered on how to fuel your workouts with carbs, hydrate properly and recover faster with protein
HOW SHOULD I FUEL MYSELF DURING TRAINING OR RACES?
For runs of up to one hour, you don’t need to take on carbs during the activity. Consume sufficient carbohydrates in the two days before a training run or event and you should have more than enough stored in your body for shorter races, such as 5Ks or 10Ks.
‘For longer runs, like a marathon, maximising carbohydrate supply becomes important to avoid hitting the wall,’ says Dr Ricardo Costa, a lecturer at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics of Monash University, Australia. ‘This generally occurs at 18-20 miles, when you’ve got no more carbs in storage.’ So if you’re going to run or race for longer, you will need to top up your carb stores with a carb product.
HOW MUCH CARBS SHOULD I CONSUME?
The body can typically absorb 30- 60g of carbohydrate per hour, irrespective of gender or body weight. Not all runners can stomach the higher end of this scale, though, so start low and see how your body responds.
WHAT KIND OF CARB SOURCE IS BEST FOR ME?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Essentially, what you want is something that’s easy to take, will be light on your stomach and will allow you to continue running while delivering the right amount of carbs when you need them. Bear in mind that if you don’t like the taste you won’t want to use it. Keep trying until you find the right one – there are plenty out there.
WHAT KIND OF CARB PRODUCTS ARE THERE?
SPORTS DRINKS These are liquid, so carbs are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. They typically contain around 30g of carbs per 500ml bottle. This means that in terms of volume it can be tricky to meet your needs in longer runs or events with sports drinks alone, as to get the optimal 60g per hour you’d need to glug a litre per hour, which could leave your stomach awash. But the larger volume also means sports drinks can contain beneficial electrolytes such as sodium (see p27 for more information on electrolytes).
GELS Semi-liquid so they don’t have to be changed from a solid during digestion. Think of a gel as a concentrated version of an energy drink. They typically contain 20-30g of carbohydrate per gel sachet, though some are more concentrated than this. They are also small and portable, and so can be carried in the hand or on a belt during a run. An important aspect to consider is whether you want an isotonic or non-isotonic gel. Isotonic gels can be taken without water, which can be more convenient in training.