Intra Exercise Nutrition…

The main problem with endurance sports is nutrition. Probably the main reason most people give up on endurance sports is problems with nutrition. If your body doesn’t have the calories in glycogen in the system then you are going to be wrecked, no matter how fit you may be.

Fat is simply not an issue. Even the skinniest athletes carry enough fat to run all day long, but if all you’ve got to burn is fat then you’re going to be going very slowly and you’re going to be really grumpy doing it. You see, the problem with fat is that it can only be used in the muscles slowly, there’s absolutely no way you can power your muscles with fat for fast sprints, hill climbs, weight lifting, fat just don’t do that. The other problem with fat is that while the brain can use it for energy, just like the muscles, it doesn’t do so efficiently either. So if all you have is fat in your system for calories then you will become depressed, paranoid, grumpy, angry, and all kinds of mood swing stuff going on. Basically your brain won’t work properly without sugar.

So for any exercise session over an hour in length, it’s best to have some kind of intra exercise nutrition to keep the glycogen in your blood stream, muscles and brain topped up.

That sounds simple, but it isn’t. The problem is that the digestive system can only digest a certain amount of carbs every hour, and it can only digest it in a certain way. So while a packet of fruit gums will be better than no sugar at all, it’s not exactly optimising things to say the least.

You see, the digestive system needs to have fluids in it in order for it to digest. So if you just pour 300 calories of pure glucose down your throat every hour your stomach will need to add a lot of fluid to that to digest it. That fluid will have to come from your body’s tissues and blood stream if you don’t take it with the glucose – which is not an ideal situation if you’re exercising and you need your body fluids to make your muscles work efficiently.

There’s lots of info around the internet on intra exercise nutrition and how much the human body can digest in an hour and how much fluid is optimal with the solids you put in, so have a surf and educate yourself.

Here’s a great article to start on… Caloric Intake – Proper Amounts During Endurance Exercise.

Anyway, to the point, my current intra exercise nutrition is this…

1 tsp raw cacao
1 tsp powdered peppermint leaf (put it through a coffee mill or blender to create a fine powder)
2 tsp raw cane sugar
1/4 tsp powdered ginger

Add 200 ml boiling water and stir well.

Pass the mix through a fine sieve.

Then add 1/8 tsp ceylon cinnamon and stir well.

Add 200 ml cold water to cool

The reason for adding the cinnamon after straining is that it clogs the strainer. Not sure what happens with it but it makes a total mess of a tea strainer.

If i’m doing a long session, over 3 hours, i will also take some dates and eat one or two every half hour or so (take dried fruit of your choice).  I don’t overdo the eating, it’s just that after a few hours my stomach starts complaining for something solid to work on.

My thoughts on this mix are as such…

Flavourings…

Cacao is what i use as the main flavouring. You will need to flavour your drink with something and cacao contains a good blend of fibre, protein, carbs, fats and also theobromine, which is in the same group of CNS stimulants as caffeine, but whereas caffeine, either on its own or in coffee, messes up coronary heart blood flow, theobromine does not…

The other advantage of cacao is the anti-oxidants it contains, raw cacao has more than heat treated cocoa. Reducing oxidative stress during exercise is a major benefit to any exercise regime, and this is where the peppermint comes in as well. Peppermint goes so well with cacao and it’s also packed with anti-oxidants, so between the two of them you are reducing oxidative stress hugely just in the flavouring of your intra exercise nutrition. The other advantage of peppermint is that it has been proven to enhance athletic performance. What’s not to like?

Ginger and Ceylon cinnamon are added because they work with the taste of the minty cacao while also reducing inflammation and both are very powerful natural anti-oxidants protecting everything from free radical damage. And doing lots of long periods of exercise you’re going to generate a lot of free radicals…

Since adding the ginger and cinnamon to the mix i have definitely noticed a benefit in recovery. This would make perfect sense when free radical damage and inflammation is being lowered in this way.

Carbohydrates…

Then we come to the carbs. Essentially, a lot of the intra exercise corporate nutrition stuff that you can buy in shops now is 1:2 ratio sugar to maltodextrin by weight, but what they don’t tell you is that maltodextrin helps nasty bacteria cling to your gut walls increasing your risk of Crohn’s disease…

So best thing is to stay away from these artificial carb drinks and gels, you really don’t need them and they really don’t do you any good long term. If, however, all you care about is winning races instead of long term health, then go for it. But then i guess you probably wouldn’t be reading my stuff in the first place.

It’s far better to go with the raw cane sugar and then eat the dates. Your body can only digest so many carbs an hour, so as long as you keep putting them in from the start of your exercising you’ll keep the glycogen topped up as high as possible. And dried fruit is full of health benefits as well, whereas sports drinks and gels most certainly aren’t.

Protein…

This mix has nearly as much protein as human breast milk – peppermint cacao = 5.6%, human breast milk = 6.5%.  Human breast milk can make a baby double in size in 4 months, so i think this is an adequate amount to keep you going while exercising and also preloading your system with essential amino acids before recovery begins.  You shouldn’t be waiting until after exercise before you think about adding essential amino acids to your system, you’re using them all through exercise so keep adding them throughout.

Electrolytes…

As a whole food vegan i do not find any need to add any extra electrolytes, including salt, to my diet.  I find that whole plant foods provide the body with all the electrolytes it needs and between the peppermint cacao and the dried fruit you’ll find there’s plenty of electrolytes going into the system.

Quantity…

How much of this mix, overall, should you take? It depends on what zone you’re exercising in. In mostly zone 2, in less than 15 degree C, you won’t be burning up lots of glycogen, or sweating lots, and i find 1000 ml of this mix works for every 1000 calories that my Garmin 920 says i’m using. But if you’re pounding up hill climbs and interval training, making lots of sweat, then seriously think about drinking more. But always bear in mind that the body can only digest so much an hour, if you’re starting to get stomach cramps or other problems then you need to consider what is causing the issue and adjust things accordingly.

It’s also important to note that you should drink a little often from the beginning of exercise, not lots occasionally or waiting until you’re thirsty or suffering. I set my Garmin to alert me every 100 calories and i always catch up to the corresponding 100ml of drink when the alert goes off – it’s ok to sip in between or a little earlier if you have a big climb in front of you or a little later if you’re just about to finish a big climb or hectic downhill.

So buy drink bottles that are see through and have clear markings as to ml written on them so that you can see how much you’re drinking very clearly.

As i say, we’re all different, so play around while you’re training and see what works best for you. Look around the internet for more info, don’t just take this page as the be all and end all of the subject, and please let me know if you think i have anything to improve on here. I’m always open for new ideas on this stuff. We can only improve as we learn more together.

Best wishes.