What should I eat to prevent the “Low Fuel Light” during endurance exercise?
American College of Sports Medicine defines an endurance athlete as one
who trains and competes for 90 minutes or longer. If you have “bonked”
like I have, you know it is essential to have a nutrition plan to keep
the “low fuel light” off during rides.
have two fuel tanks. The first is Tank 1 (the body’s fat stores) that
holds about 70,000 calories of fat available during lower intensity
aerobic exercise. You are using this tank when you can easily carry on a
conversation during rides. Tank 2 is your carbohydrate stores, which
is glycogen stored in the muscles and liver. As the intensity of a
workout increases your ability to use tank 1 fuel decreases and you
become dependent on carbohydrate stores in tank 2. The body can only
store about 2,000 calories of glycogen at a time to continually fuel the
working muscles and the brain. When the glycogen stores get low, the
low-fuel light starts flashing.
To keep this from happening we have to focus on fueling before exercise, during exercise, after exercise, and daily fueling.
Endurance athletes should never start without a full tank and eating
before a workout helps the body start with tank 2 full of glycogen. If
you have three to four hours, eat 300-600 calories, primarily of
carbohydrate, moderate protein and low fat. You should eat before a
long ride even if you are not hungry. Minimize fiber to avoid
discomfort. Some good options: Oatmeal with milk, fruit and nuts;
toast and peanut butter; turkey sandwich with fruit.
the American College of Sports Medicine recommends refueling every 45
to 60 minutes during a long workout. Eat 30 to 60 g of carbohydrate
(120-240 calories) per hour. Some good options for fuel during: gels;
energy beans, energy beverages, honey, bananas, oranges; pancakes and
syrup will also provide ample carbohydrates if you have a restaurant
Immediately after a workout the Tank 2 storage capacity can be
increased and fueling correctly with carbohydrates and protein will help
you stimulate the development of better, stronger tissue. Within 30
minutes of exercise, have a snack of 300-400 calories (75-100 grams
carbohydrate) (6 grams protein). Chocolate milk; high density nutrition
bar (clif bar); smoothie with yogurt and fruit; and 2 cups of fluid
for every pound of body weight lost.
Consistently eating a diet high in complex carbohydrates (whole grains,
fruits, vegetables, legumes) and lean protein (not cookies and chips)
will help ensure that the low fuel light never goes on.
Cheers to a full tank 2.