Race Day Nutrition (Part Seven) – Marc Laithwaite

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Last week we introduced specific products used during endurance events and how they can fulfil your requirements in terms of nutrition intake.

There are 3 common sports products used during endurance racing:

  1. Drinks powders
  2. Gels
  3. Bars

This week, we’ll check out bars and gels.

What’s in them?

Unsurprisingly, gels tend to contain maltodextrin and glucose, similar to the drinks. In fact, gels are simply condensed energy drinks. They were originally designed to be carried on events where you could access only water, as a source of energy. The thickness of the gel will dictate how much energy they contain. Some gels are very thick and sticky and these contain more energy than the ones which are a thinner, more watery solution. This is based upon the simple principles we discussed a couple of weeks ago, relating to hypo, iso and hypertonic solutions.

As an example, a 41g power gel original contains approximately 27g of carbohydrate. Remember the 60g rule? That means 2 of these gels per hour would be pretty close to target intake. The remaining 14g of the gel is fluid (41g – 27g = 14g) so we can calculate the gel thickness as follows:

Total weight = 41g
Carbohydrate content = 27g
27/41 = 0.66, Therefore this gel is a 66% solution (27 is 66% of 41)

The purpose of that calculation is simply to highlight that gels are extremely ‘hypertonic’, remember that isotonic is a 7% solution. Being hypertonic is not a problem, the more hypertonic the more energy it provides, but it does mean that you need to take fluid with them.

In past blogs we stated that you should aim for no more than 10% solutions, so that means 270ml of water drank with 27g of carbohydrate will be correct, 270 / 27 = 10. It’s important to do the calculation based on the 27g of carbohydrate in the gel, not the 41g total weight of the gel. Technically if you drink 270ml the solution will actually be less that 10% as there’s already 14g of fluid in the gel as stated above. As a practical guide think about a 500ml drinks bottle generally used for cycling, it’s half of one of those with every power gel.

What about Isogels

There are ISOGELS on the market, SIS and High5 make popular versions. By adding more fluid to the gel and reducing the carbohydrate content they can reduce the thickness of the gel solution.

The first thing of note is that they contain less carbohydrate, so you’d need to take more of them every hour. They contain in the region of 22-24g of carbohydrate per gel, so that means you’d be taking almost 3 per hour to get your energy, rather than 2 power gels. That’s a lot of gels to carry if you’re racing long distances.

But ISOGELS are isotonic, so you don’t need water, right?

HIGH5 Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 24g
24/66 = 0.36, Therefore this gel is a 36% solution (24 is 36% of 66)

SIS GO Isogel
Total weight = 66g
Carbohydrate content = 22g
22/66 = 0.33, Therefore this gel is a 33% solution (22 is 33% of 66)

So we said above and in previous blogs that isotonic solutions are 7%. The solutions for the ISOGELS above are 33% and 36%, this is not isotonic, it’s hypertonic. I may be missing something here, so I did phone High5 and ask. They couldn’t answer the question but stated that ‘they were more isotonic than other gels’. I’m not sure that is technically true, as none of them are anywhere near 7%. That’s a bit like me saying I’m tall and when questioned about by lack of height, I reply by stating ‘I’m more tall than Ste Hilton’. Whilst that may be true, it doesn’t make me tall…

Key points:

1. You DO need to drink water with ISO gels
2. If you don’t know Ste, that joke is completely lost

If there’s 24g of carbohydrate in a 66g gel, then you need to take 240ml of water for a 10% solution (240ml / 24g = 10%). However, there is already 42g of fluid in there (66g gel – 24g carbohydrate = 42g fluid). Based on this, 200ml would be sufficient, that’s still more than a third of a 500ml drinks bottle.

What about energy bars?

Bars are an alternative source of carbohydrate. They generally contains things like oats, rice, wheat etc with added sugar syrups such as glucose or fructose. In terms of ‘solutions’ a gel is solid food, so it needs mixing with a significant amount of water to digest and absorb effectively.

As an example, a powerbar energize bar (others are available!!) weighs in as follows:

Bar weight = 55g
Carbohydrate = 39g
Fat = 2g
Protein = 6g

In terms of carbohydrate content, you’d need 1.5 bars per hour to get your 60g intake. If you add up the content weight 39g + 2g + 6g = 47g. We stated that the bar weighed 55g, so there is some fluid in there also plus some other little bits to make the weight up to 55g. If you drank a full 500ml bottle of water with every bar, that would give you just less than 9% solution which is ideal (47/500 = 0.9). That means a full 750ml bottle and 1.5 powerbars per hour would be pretty much on target (remember all bars are different, these calculations are for powerbar energize).

Salt intake

We discussed sweating and hydration last week, which included salt intake. As a recap, salt and sodium are 2 different things. Salt is 40% sodium and 60% chloride. You need to know this as some products give ‘salt’ content and others give ‘sodium’ content. Remember also from last week we said that you are likely to sweat up to 1g of sodium per hour (1000mg). There’s multiple thoughts on salt replacement, regarding how much and whether you need it. I’m not going to go into depth on the matter because this is meant to be a simple and easy to read blog. If it’s warm and you sweat a fair bit, aim for 500-1000mg SODIUM per hour. If you take a bit too much, you’ll just sweat it out anyhow so don’t overly panic.

Let’s presume that you are aiming to take all of your energy by using sports gels or bars. So remember, our targets are 60g of carbohydrate per hour and 500-1000mg of sodium per hour, presuming its warm and you sweat. Here are some options:

SIS GO Isotonic Gel

Includes 22 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible

High5 Isogel

Includes 24 grams of carbohydrate
Sodium = negligible

Powergel

Includes 27g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 205mg
2-3 Powergels per hour would give you 410-615mg of sodium, we stated that 500mg was a starting target.

Powerbar Energize

Includes 39g of carbohydrate
Sodium = 192mg
1.5 Powerbar Energize per hour as suggested above, would give you 288mg of sodium, half of that provided by intake of 2-3 Powerbar gels per hour. They really don’t make this easy!!

Some key points:

  1. The amount of carbohydrate in gels and bars varies widely
  2. You need to drink water with all gels and bars for correct absorption
  3. Isotonic gels don’t exist (unless I’ve missed something)
  4. Sodium content varies widely in bars and gels and is often not included

I hope that basic overview helps you to practically apply what you’ve learned over recent weeks, feel free to call into the store and we can talk you through it before your big day.

– Marc

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

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Training is like baking – Marc Laithwaite

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In recent posts, we’ve been talking about enhancing fat burning to boost endurance. This week’s post was due to focus upon pacing strategy for training and competing and specifically how pacing interacts with the types of fuel you use when exercising. However, as we’ve been discussing Maffetone in recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages stating that I’ve contradicted myself. The reason for this is that I am a believer in the importance of short and high intensity workouts for endurance performance. In the past I have outlined the danger of too much low intensity riding and running, specifically how it makes you slower. I understand why this may be seen as contradictory, so let me explain…

If you are competing in Ironman, one of the things you need to consider is your estimated time and pacing strategy on the bike section. To calculate your ‘race pace’ a simple and popular test is the cp20. During this test, the rider is required to sustain the highest power output for a 20 minute period and from the results, you can calculate your ‘functional threshold’. Some of you may have heard these strange terms before but in simple terms your ‘functional threshold’ is the output you should feasibly be able to manage for an hour. The calculation is simple, look at the average power for the 20 minute test and 95% of that figure is your functional threshold

Using functional threshold you can guess the amount of power that in theory you can sustain for all distances up to the Ironman 112. For example, 70% of your functional threshold is a reasonable target for Ironman. The critical thing here is that the power you can hold for only 20 minutes (a very short period of time) predicts Ironman pace. So, if you cannot ride quickly for 20 minutes, you will undoubtedly be riding slowly in Ironman over a distance of 112 miles, as 70% of ‘slowly’ is ‘even slower’. A common mistake people make when training for long distances is that they focus on endurance only and ride lots of slow miles. They ‘get it in their heads’ that Ironman is all about ‘the distance’ so ride long and slow. As a result of doing so much slow riding, their 20 minute power output is reduced to a score potentially even lower than when they started! Subsequently, their Ironman pace (70% FTP) is therefore also reduced.

So the solution is simple, just train to produce the highest power output for 20 minutes by doing short and high intensity riding and you’ll PB in Ironman? Unfortunately not… The test dictates your Ironman pace from the amount of power you can produce within the 20 minutes. However, the critical part is that the test also presumes that you have done the mileage, so therefore have the endurance to support your performance.

The same applies to running and training for a marathon. Let’s say as a ‘guess’ that if you double your 10k time and add 4-5 minutes, you’ll be close to your half marathon time. Now double your half marathon time and add 10 and you’ll get your predicted marathon time. You’ve probably heard that formula before, it’s been around for many years. The key thing to point out is that when using that formula, your 10k time is therefore dictating your marathon time. As with our cycling example, if you can’t run quickly for 10k, you can’t run a fast marathon.

However, the formula of double 10k and add 4-5 minutes or double half marathon and add 10 presumes that you have ‘done the mileage’. You can’t just train for 10k racing and expect to run a great marathon. Your 10k time will ‘predict’ your running speed in the marathon, but without the mileage in your legs, you won’t be able to hold that pace for the entirety of the race.

So let’s look at it this way:

  1. The 20 minute test in cycling or the 10k time in running tells you how quickly you are capable of riding or running Ironman or marathon.
  2. Whether you have done the long distances in training will determine whether you are actually capable of maintaining that speed and reaching the finish line in your target time.
  3. As a quick summary, ‘how fast can you go and can you keep it going?’

The simple lesson to learn here is that both long-term endurance and maximal output over shorter distances are equally important for performance. If you choose one but not the other, you’ll either manage the distance ‘comfortably but slowly’ or you’ll go quickly at the start and die a painful death at the end. Don’t dismiss either of these key factors if you want to hit your target time.

To finish, I’ll go back to something, which I mentioned 3 weeks ago, when writing about the Maffetone formula. Each training intensity, level or zone has it’s own benefits and purpose. Too frequently athletes do their easy stuff too hard and their hard stuff too easy, as a consequence the sessions merge into one grey area of moderate intensity. When riding or running in zone 1, there are specific benefits, which are lost when you push too hard. When attempting a high intensity interval workout you will not gain the specific benefits of that session if you do not push hard enough.

Training is like baking, you need to put lots of different, but high quality ingredients together or you’ll find that on race day the whole thing will just taste a bit bland.

Go forwards endurance students, train well and practice burning the fat

– Marc Laithwaite

About Marc:

Sports Science lecturer for 10 years at St Helens HE College.

2004 established The Endurance Coach LTD sports science and coaching business. Worked with British Cycling as physiology support 2008-2008. Previous Triathlon England Regional Academy Head Coach, North West.

In 2006 established Epic Events Management LTD. Now one of the largest event companies in the NW, organising a range of triathlon, swimming and cycling events. EPIC EVENTS also encompasses Montane Trail 26 and Petzl Night Runner events.

In 2010 established Montane Lakeland 50 & 100 LTD. This has now become the UKs leading ultra distance trail running event.

In 2010 established The Endurance Store triathlon, trail running and open water swimming store. Based in Appley Bridge, Wigan, we are the North West’s community store, organising and supporting local athletes and local events.

Check out the endurance store HERE

Endurance Store Logo

A day in the Lakes with SCOTT JUREK

Scott Jurek ©iancorless.com

It started like this, ‘Pardon for the last minute message, but I just found out I will have this Friday free when I arrive in London. Are you available to do a run? Is there something we could do in the mountains-trails within striking distance of London. I fly into Heathrow at 7am Friday.’ Scott Jurek

Now Scott and myself had discussed running together at some point in time, however, this message came as a bolt out of the blue. Ironically, I received this email as I was leaving Colorado after covering the UROC race in Vail. Scott lives in Boulder, so, we were actually only 90-mins away from each other!

I initially looked for trails close to London but Scott insisted, he wanted to come to the Lakes. So committed was he and Jenny that he changed his flights and arrived in Heathrow at 0500 on Friday after a 9-hour flight. They travelled across London and then jumped on a train to arrive midday in Windermere.

I was well aware that this was Scott’s first ever trip to the UK, so, it was important to provdie an opportunity for people to join us. I offered the chance for 8 people to join us. Quite simply, email in and names would be selected out of hat.

I contacted The Climbers Shop in Ambleside and they offered a venue for us to meet and they also provided the facilities for a ‘meet and greet’ with Scott later in the day at 5pm.

Needless to say it was a memorable day for all involved and Scott loved the Lakes, the views, the trails and the terrain.

Will he be back…?

Nothing is 100% but don’t rule out a return trip for an attempt on some ’rounds’ and you never know, the UTLD may just be on his bucket list before he retires.

I’d like to thank Scott Jurek and his wife, Jenny for a memorable day and being so committed to run with some serious jet lag and fatigue.

Marc Laithwaite, RD for the Lakeland 100 and 50 who gave up his day to join us. Not a difficult decision I imagine.

I’d like to thank The Climbers Shop for great last minute help and cooperation with a venue. The 8 runners who joined us for a memorable run on the trails and all those who came to the shop for autographs and photographs later in the day.

Images available for personal and commercial use HERE