Fuel for Training

Fueling for Training and Competition

Everyone knows to carb up for exercise for optimal fuel sources but it may benefit you to sometimes skip that pre-workout meal to utilize alternative fuel sources. 

Alternative Fuel Sources

When the body’s glycogen stores, which are supplied by carbohydrates both complex and simple, fat and proteins begin to oxidize.  Obviously degrading proteins is not an ideal situation because they are vital to muscular composition, but for those looking to trim down for beach season, utilizing fat as a fuel source can be viewed as a positive.  Fat actually provides more energy per gram than carbs at a 9:4 Caloric ratio.  

Should I Avoid Carbs?

The additional energy fat provides does not directly translate to better performance.  There is reason that carb loading is a time-tested strategy for athletes of all disciplines prior to competition.  If you are preparing for a competition, it is recommended to reduce training for 24 hours as well as consume 10-12 grams per kilogram of body mass over 48 hours.  This will result in a supercompensation of glycogen in ample supply for optimal performance, but be wary that this supercompensation phase cannot be repeated within another 48-hour bout of glycogen depletion.

ESPN recently published an article about the peanut butter and jelly crave that has struck NBA locker rooms within the past decade; a trend that started with the ’07-’08 Boston Celtics most notably Kevin Garnett who brought the tradition with him to Brooklyn and then Minnesota.  The peanut butter provides valuable proteins and the jelly provides sugar for a quick boost of muscular glycogen but the real key is that all the sandwiches are made on white bread.  White enriched bread is generally frowned upon especially in today’s modern health craze that seems to be obsessed with kale and organic foods, but white bread has a lower glycemic index than its whole wheat/grain counterpart allowing for quicker digestion and absorption in the waning hours before game time.  Everyone has different pre-game rituals, some preferring large meals while others do not eat up to five hours prior to tip-off, but it benefits all players to consume at least one PB&J because not only will it provide them with a quick boost of energy but low glycemic foods reduce the suppression of fatty acid oxidation which will provide the athletes with more energy throughout.  Of course in game time, Gatorade is readily available as well as different fruit chews and protein/energy bars.  All of these sports supplements allow for greater carbohydrate metabolism and utilization because carbohydrates are limited by their specific transporter and so consuming different types of carbs like fructose and sucrose along with glucose allows for a greater uptake of carbohydrates.  If you ever see athletes on the sideline simply gargle some Gatorade then proceed to spit it out and think to yourself ''that it is a waste of fluids'', the central nervous system can actually sense the presence of carbohydrates through receptors in the mouth and simple mouth rinses like this, usually glycerol added to water, can improve performance by 2-3%.  

Training Adaptations

Endurance exercise on low glycogen stores has been found to cause a greater metabolic response towards fat oxidation as well as carbohydrate metabolism.  There are those who choose to stick with a ketogenic diet, one that minimizes carbohydrate intake in preference for fat consumption, but this can actually reduce adaptations and impair performance.  Instead try to alter your training pattern around your balanced diet by running after an overnight fast or consuming slightly less carbs than required for your training load.  

Bottom Line

Everybody is unique in terms of their bodily reactions to training as well as their nutritional needs. Some react better to fat oxidation while others perform better with optimal glycogen stores, but the bottom line is that a well-balanced diet should be followed.  If you have a competition or high intensity workout coming up, then make sure you have an ample supply of carbohydrates available for metabolism but if you are simply going for a light jog or undergoing conditioning at the beginning of the season, avoid those late night munchies and that bagel in the morning, it could be dividends down the line.