In several of the articles I’ve written about performance nutrition and race day fueling, I’ve talked about how months and even years of training can be ruined during training by poor nutrition, and on race day by lack of a fueling plan, or a poorly executed fuel plan.
I know the message is hitting home, because I’ve had a huge surge in requests for fueling plans and lots of questions about nutrition come up during group coaching sessions. People are really starting to understand how important this is! This makes me very happy, because I think anyone who has a coaching business, really wants their athletes to have a great experience. However, every silver lining has a cloud, and the cloud to this silver lining is that I am finding that some athletes think that if poor fueling = bad race/ride, then a great fueling plan must therefore equal a great race/ride. And while that’s true, it’s only true if the athlete has also done the proper training.
While this seems incredibly obvious, I am starting to hear comments that lead me to believe that it’s not so obvious that it isn’t worth spelling out. Because endurance athletes are really learning about the important of electrolytes as part of their training and fueling plan, I find that athletes are attributing ANY cramping they experience to electrolyte imbalance.
No amount of electrolyte tabs will take the place of proper training for your event
I recently had an athlete come to me requesting a sweat rate test and fueling plan. This athlete had experienced cramping in his last two endurance events and as he told me, he had learned his lesson about drinking water rather than sports drink. So during his second event, he drank only endurance formula sports drink loaded with sodium. He even took sodium tablets from a fellow athlete, but his cramping persisted. He was desperate to find a solution. Before asking about the rest of his fueling plan, or his pre-race nutrition, I asked him about his training. I asked him what he ate and drank during his long rides and how long those rides were. It turns out, that the longest training day this athlete had done was 5 hours — but he was doing an event that would take him almost twice that! Cramps are much more common when you use your muscles beyond their accustomed limit either for a longer than normal duration or at a higher than normal level of activity. High sodium sports drinks are great for preventing cramping …. IF the cause of the cramping is electrolyte depletion. But you won’t be able to eat your way to the finish line if the cause of the cramping is muscle fatigue due to under-training. In other words, no amount of electrolyte tabs will take the place of proper training for your event.
A second and very common fueling error isn’t really a fueling error, but a pacing error. Scores of very dedicated athletes put the time in the saddle and do a great job of practicing their event-day fueling plan during every long workout. They get very dialed in – for their training pace. However, on race day (or event day), they get caught up in the excitement of the early pace done on fresh legs. If the ride is draft legal, the athlete might be trying to hang on to the paceline. If it’s not, they are trying to stay within the legal draft zone of their competition. Either way, one of two things is likely to happen. The athlete will either get careless about the early fueling, or they will push the heart rate above their aerobic threshold. Or both.
Dehydration of 1 to 2 percent of body weight begins to compromise physiologic function and negatively influences performance. Dehydration of greater than 3 percent of body weight further impairs physiologic function and increases the athlete’s risk of developing heat cramps or heat exhaustion. Loss of 5 percent or more body weight can result in heatstroke. In addition, an athlete competing with his heart rate above his aerobic threshold is now relying on easily exhausted supplies of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, rather than stored fat as a fuel. To further complicate things, as this athlete tries to ingest the fuel he relied on during his training, he will experience difficulty processing even simple carbohydrates with an elevated heart rate. This can lead to bloating, cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. As coaches like to say, “nutrition problems are often pacing problems in disguise”.
Remember, just as it’s possible to ruin good training or race strategy with poor nutrition, it’s possible to ruin a good fueling plan with poor training and poor race strategy! Nail the training, pacing and fueling trifecta for B2B by keeping the importance of each of these in balance.