Standard fueling dogma for endurance sports says you must eat before you’re hungry otherwise the wheels will fall off and you’ll collapse in a sweaty, crying heap somewhere just shy of the halfway mark.
This is excellent advice. If you are a sports nutrition company…
Because when athletes follow this advice they consume a LOT more product than they need, thus swelling sports nutrition companies’ coffers very nicely.
‘Yeah baby, we’re gonna tell you to eat more so we can earn more! High five!’ Don’t let sports nutrition co’s marketing wonks blow your race
Unfortunately, the athletes in question do rather less well and are far more likely to suffer stomach issues, yo-yo energy levels, and to generally have a terrible time overall as a result of - basically - force-feeding themselves.
Truth is, the ‘eat before you’re hungry’ dogma is outdated nonsense which only harms athletes’ performance and health. The far better option is to eat when you’re hungry. You know, just like you have throughout the rest of your life.
While devastatingly simple on the surface (feel hungry = eat) this strategy is harder to master, largely because in our luxuriant modern world of abundance where food awaits at every turn, we rarely ever feel true hunger. Thus our ability to accurately identify it is sorely diminished.
The result is many athletes who try fueling to hunger for the first time miss every early warning signal, only eventually recognising they’re hungry by the time the body’s alarm system is going bonkers.
Energy reserves by this stage are critically low, and no amount of food is going to stave off the imminent bonk, which will need to be ridden out as fuel is gradually added back into the tank.
As a result, the athlete in question decides fueling to hunger is nonsense, and goes back to force-feeding him or herself huge amounts of product ‘to be on the safe side’.
For successful execution of fueling to hunger, what’s needed is practice. By tuning into the body’s hunger signals much more accurately, you can develop a skill that will return ever greater rewards and one which will allow you to fuel any race, at any distance, to perfection.
To develop this ninja skill and take your nutrition game to the next level, here are the three signs you need to eat during exercise:
Three signs you need to eat during exercise:
1 Mental fog
Can’t remember your name? Forgetting everything from drinking to why exactly in heaven’s name you signed up for this suffer-fest? Unspeakably angry at everything from the course director to that last spectator who said ‘you’re nearly there’?
This will be brain fog setting in, and is a huge indicator you need something to eat.
Confused mid-race? That’ll be the brain fog telling you to eat
The brain may only be 2% of our body mass, but its our biggest energy drain, sucking up 20% of our calories at any one moment.
When the fog drops this is a sign the brain’s cutting energy to non-essential areas to preserve the rather more important ones (breathing in and out, staying upright, etc).
As soon as your mind gets cloudy, that’s a red light right there. Get some fuel on board.
2 Thinking about food
‘Mmmm, donuts’ said Homer Simpson when he was hungry, and who knew how powerful his example could be for hard-charging athletes?
When you’re seeing donuts at every turn, you’re hungry
Because when you think about food, that’s a surefire sign your body needs some.
So whenever food crosses your mind, register it, recognise it as the early-warning sign for hunger that it is and get some fuel on board.
As a further spot of fine-tuning:
With slow-release carbs, protein, good fats and natural electrolytes 33Fuel’s Chia Energy Gels are a wholefood endurance powerhouse
3 Perceived effort is higher
Perceived effort is simply how hard something feels, as judged by you, on a scale out of 10 with 1 being ‘no effort at all’ and 10 being ‘eyes popping out of head, about to die’.
When your perceived effort is going up, while your pace is remaining the same or slowing, you need something to eat.
Depending on how you have paced yourself there will be times in any endurance event where pace will naturally slow as the effort required to hold it increases. This is the nature of the endurance beast, but even so, you will know from experience when the going is feeling unnaturally higher than normal.
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