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Fuelled or fasted workouts??

Updated: Sep 1

Fuelling your DH Training Club sessions, and the role of fasted training.

Fuel for the work required is a concept developed in sport nutrition over the last decade, thanks to pioneering research from Liverpool John Moores University.

In essence, the concept is simple: understand the specific nutritional needs for each session and plan accordingly. It has gained widespread recognition after successfully fuelling cycling teams to grand tour victories and is now a staple in elite sports and can benefit any athlete.

When we exercise, our main fuel sources are carbohydrates and fat, with a combination of both being common during training. The primary factors determining which fuel is used are exercise duration, exercise intensity, and feeding status. In this article, we'll focus on exercise intensity and feeding status, which includes what we eat and drink before, during, and after training.

For high-intensity exercise, carbohydrates are essential. A lack of carbohydrate intake before and during intense sessions can reduce training capacity, hinder the ability to maintain high intensities, and even impact bone tissue. Thus, it is recommended to prioritise carbohydrates in the diet before intense sessions or on the day before activities like match day – 1 for rugby players.

Conversely, lower intensity exercise, such as walking or light cycling, predominantly relies on fat as fuel. For those seeking to reduce body fat, engaging in low-intensity exercise while carbohydrate-fasted can be beneficial. Carbohydrate-fasted exercise means undertaking the activity without consuming any carbohydrates, and it can include activities like a morning dog walk or a cycle after having just a single espresso. This practice has been used successfully by Team Sky, known for their famous omelette rides.

Fasted training can play a role in fat metabolism and body composition goals, but it is not suitable for high-intensity exercise. Integrating fasted training into a weekly program is a valuable addition, particularly for low-intensity sessions or when no strenuous activity follows. Training in this state allows the body to burn fat efficiently. However, for high-intensity workouts lasting 60 minutes or more, consuming carbohydrates before and during the session is crucial.

To summarise, when aiming to lose weight, consider adjusting your nutrition before strength or low-intensity cardio sessions. For instance, avoid carbohydrates and opt for caffeine (like black coffee) 60 minutes before starting the session, as caffeine can reduce perceived effort and prioritise fat metabolism. You may choose to have a three-egg omelette and a single espresso, for example, providing a good source of protein with caffeine.

On the other hand, if your goal is to increase muscle mass, you can still use the same tactic to reduce fat mass while ensuring you consume thirty grams of protein afterward to maximise protein synthesis and maintain a calorie surplus throughout the day. This could be scrambled eggs on toast, maybe with some smoked salmon and avocado for the additional calories.

Once the session is finished, if you delay carbohydrate feeding to one hour post-session (i.e., have a small bowl of tomato pasta with chicken and fresh chilli), you will continue to metabolise fat during that time. But remember, if the session intensity goes up, consume a banana, cereal bar, fruit loaf, or sports drink to maintain your intensity.

Reuben Stables

Performance Nutritionist

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