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Short-distance fueling vs. long-distance fueling

BY STEVE BORN

One size does not fit all when it comes to endurance fueling. Depending on the duration or type of activity, the nutrients you require for optimal performance vary. For athletes, determining how much and what kind of fuel to use during short workouts or all day races can be tricky. Here are some handy guidelines to help you get your fueling plan dialed in, no matter the distance.

1) Success "during" starts "after"! Whether you're going short or going long, it's absolutely vital that you "refill the tank" after all your workouts... this is a major key for fueling success. When you begin a workout or event/race, the primary fuel your body uses for the first 60-90 minutes or so is known as muscle glycogen. The more consistent you are with ASAP post-exercise fueling (Recoverite is ideal for that), among the many benefits you'll receive is more minutes of glycogen stored in the muscles - maxing out at somewhere between 60-90 minutes - ready to serve you in future workouts and races.

2) No matter how short or long you're going, finish all calorie consumption 3 hours prior to start. By refraining from consuming any calories in the 3-hour period prior to your workouts and races, you put your body in the ideal physiological state to use its finite stores of muscle glycogen most efficiently, while also utilizing the vast amount of calories from body fat stores more effectively.

3) 60-90-minute workouts and races. If you've been faithful with consistent post-exercise refueling, you'll have a nice reservoir of fuel (muscle glycogen) available when you start. That means that minimal amount of calories will be necessary during your workout or race; a single serving of Hammer Gel 5-10 minutes prior to the start should be all you need. If you feel that you want to have some fuel during the workout or race, a serving of Hammer Gel, or a bottle of HEED, or a light mix of Perpetuem will be perfectly acceptable (regarding the latter, see "SPECIAL NOTES").

4) 2-3-hour workouts and races. We consider workouts and races in this time range to be in a "gray area" so to speak, which means that you can use either a "carb + protein" fuel (Sustained Energy, Perpetuem, "ultra" Hammer Gels) or a "carb only" fuel (HEED, non-protein-containing flavors of Hammer Gel). The selection needs to be based on the following:

  • The type of exercise that you're doing. For example, running is a higher-impact - and thus a more "digestively challenging" - type of exercise than cycling.
  • The intensity of the effort. Higher intensity oftentimes means decreased digestive system functioning.
  • The weather and how well or poorly you're acclimated to it. The hotter the weather, the more compromised the digestive system becomes.
  • The terrain. Doing lots of climbing while on the bike or during a run usually diminishes digestive capabilities somewhat.

5) 3+ hour workouts and races. Most of the time, when exercise goes beyond 2 hours - and definitely when you're going 3 hours or longer - you need both carbohydrates AND protein in your fuel. This is because during prolonged bouts of exercise 5-15% of your caloric utilization comes from protein. This process, called gluconeogenesis, is unavoidable, and if you don't supply the needed protein in your fuel, your body will literally scavenge it from your own muscle tissue. This is called catabolism (muscle breakdown) or "protein cannibalization," and it can cause premature muscle fatigue due to excess ammonia production from the protein breakdown process, as well as muscle depletion and post-exercise soreness.

Hammer Nutrition's protein-containing fuels, Sustained Energy and Perpetuem, are ideal choices for long-distance fueling. You can use them as your sole fuel from beginning to end, or you can use them as your primary fuel - roughly 2/3 – 3/4 of the time-augmented with other Hammer Nutrition fuels.

SPECIAL NOTES:

1) Perpetuem for shorter workouts and races? You bet! With its complex carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat components, Perpetuem is best known as the long distance fuel without peer. However, mixed in a slightly lower-calorie amount, Perpetuem is a great fuel for shorter workouts and races. Many athletes have reported to us that they've had such good success using Perpetuem as their only fuel - short or long - that they oftentimes won't use anything else. Give it a try!

2) Remember your electrolytes! As important as the calories you consume to produce energy, as well as the fluids you drink to maintain optimal hydration status, consistent replenishment of electrolytes is a crucially important component of fueling. For shorter-duration workouts and races, a dose of one of the Endurolytes products prior to the start should be all you need. If you're going to be out there for more than 2 hours, take a dose every hour during your workout or race, with a final dose after you're done.