Fuel and Running – Part 1

I cannot stress enough how important FUEL is to running. You may be the fastest runner, having the highest VO2 max and the most fatigue resistant leg muscles with many hours of training…… but you would still be rendered COMPLETELY useless if you fail to fuel enough for your metabolic system to provide sufficient energy. You can testify to this fact if you have trained hard for a marathon but hit the wall after passing the 30KM mark.

The BONK

The much dreaded bonk where your blood glucose level stoops too low due to insufficient fuel intake. It is the point where you have almost completely cleared your muscle and liver’s supply of glycogen. Your brain gets fuzzy and you JUST WANT TO STOP RUNNING!

Glycogen depletion, ATP exhaustion and the accumulation of lactate have all been suspects that contribute to fatigue.

The Metabolic Story

ATP – the body’s energy currency – is what your body uses to power up your active muscles (RUNNING!) and to carry out every other activity (Anabolism and Catabolism).

We derive energy from the food we eat, mainly carbohydrates, fats and proteins (lesser extent). The muscle tissue, liver and adipose tissue are where these macronutrients are stored until we need them during movement/exercise.

When you run, adrenaline is released to kick start the metabolic process. Ultimately, carbohydrates and fats are broken down in a step by step process (Thankfully, we need not know the process. We will leave it to the body to handle) to produce ATP.

No ATP –> No Energy –> No Muscle Contraction. You can see how fuel and the metabolic system are crucial limitations to running performance.

The Supply

You’ve got to supply your body with fuel to meet its demands. Providing enough fuel during training is just as important as fueling enough for race day.

It is not easy to get it right. You have to constantly experiment with yourself. Try new things and stick to what works for you.

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I had trouble meeting this balance 2 weeks ago at the RHB race. My training was as per usual except that I decided to increase the intensity on that particular week. I made the mistake of NOT compensating the extra work with extra fuel.

On race day, I felt completely drained. So much for doing extra work. All of it was lost because I didn’t have sufficient FUEL.

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Glycogen stored in the liver is responsible for maintaining blood glucose concentration within the acceptable range. Your brain relies heavily on glucose to function. The problem is that the active brain uses the stored glycogen in the liver when you sleep. A race first thing in the morning can wreak havoc if you fail to eat a proper breakfast to top off your already glycogen-depleted liver.

Well, let’s just say I didn’t fuel enough throughout the week AND on the morning of the race.

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I don’t know if I’m exaggerating but I just wanted to stop running after 8KM.  I could not brain the situation. I was feeling cold and clammy, pins and needles everywhere……it was just not my day. Thanks to Victor (fellow Puma Pacer) who ran up to me just to cheer me on! Not forgetting Kartini who yelled from across the road and Rashid who overtook me halfway. Nice to meet ya’ll! Every little bit of motivation counts! The cherry on the cake was when I was in 7-8th place when I arrived at the finish line (when I knew exactly how many people were in front of me). WHAT?!

Thankfully, the organizers checked it through with the timing chip and I managed 3rd place!

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The sister came in 4th in the 21KM category. 😀

More on fuel storage and how to maximize them for performance in my next post.

Till then, EAT WELL FOLKS!

Keep Running!

6 thoughts on “Fuel and Running – Part 1

    1. Hello! As always, thanks for reading!

      To answer your question, if you want to REALLY make sure you are not overeating then you have to calculate your calories in and out.

      There are many calorie counters on the internet – http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/bmr_calculator.htm . Just use it to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and if you ran that day, add it in as well. Then, calculate the calories that you consume (you can use food labels and tables found on the internet for certain foods). Calories in should be around your BMR + calories out (exercise).

      Hope this helps!

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