Fueling a Training Camp

Fueling a Training Camp

PetroWith EC’s recent Tucson camp (and the picture of Petro’s nutritional strategy as shown in the picture) fresh in my mind I thought it might be a good time to chat about one of the less considered elements in training camp planning: nutrition.

From the camps that I’ve attended to this point, it is clear that some athletes get stronger as the camp goes on while others crack. While some of this comes down to individual differences in physiology, a large part of the deciding factor between those athletes who “survive” versus “thrive” comes down to keeping up with the nutritional demand of the huge volume of activity.

The problem is a simple one. In a typical training camp scenario, athletes are often time limited in terms of getting enough calories in to make up for what they expend on a daily basis. With typical outputs in the range of 3000-5000 kcal/day over four to seven hours of training, unless the athlete is able to put back 5000-7000kcal/day they will typically run a deficit. Considering most athletes will only be able to ingest 400kcal/hr during training, and will have increased sleep needs, this leaves the athlete with 3500-4000kcal to divide between the five or six hours per day that they are not training and sleeping (typically breakfast and dinner). This is a significant amount of food for an athlete to put away over the course of two meals, especially when the athletes digestive system isn’t on the high priority list when it comes to blood flow allocation!

I’ve personally been on both sides of the fence, drastically under-fueled at some camps, with the extreme example being Epic New Zealand 2006 and appropriately fueled on most of my recent camps. In the case of this last EC Tucson, my strongest day by far was the last day — always a good sign that fueling was appropriate. My personal breakdown of approximate calories in versus out (including a 2450 RMR) for each of the six days of camp is shown below:

The importance of putting back what you put out is especially important when it comes to carbohydrate. Athletes’ carbohydrate stores within the body are quite finite; in the range of 2500-3500kcal depending on the size of the athlete. A six hour ride at 200W will cost the athlete somewhere in the range of 4800kcal of energy. Even when we account for contribution from fat and fueling during the exercise, this still leaves the athlete having to fit the balance of the bill; ~2000-2500kcal from his or her glycogen stores. Considering that maximal glycogen resynthesis is in the range of 90kcal/hr, even if the athlete does everything right, in the 17 hours or so between one ride ending and the next beginning, he or she will have only replaced ~50% of CHO stores. This means that in addition to eating very carbohydrate heavy on the big days, athletes will need to include smaller days to allow for the 48 hours or so that it takes to fully replenish muscle glycogen stores.

When it comes to carbohydrate, I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is to shoot for at least TSSx10 in kcal of carbohydrate for each day of training (shown on the chart). In my opinion, meeting your carbohydrate needs is the most important metric to hit each day in a training camp scenario.

So, in summary, what can we do to ensure that we are riding as strong at the end of the camp as at the beginning?

  • Go into the camp with a few longer rides under your belt – glycogen storage in the cells is a very quickly trained adaptation. If you have challenged this ability a couple of times before the camp your ability to store carbohydrate will be enhanced.
  • Eat a lot of carbohydrate both during and between rides – recognize that:
    1. When fueling during your sessions, you’re not just fueling for that session but for all those to come. Therefore, this is a great time to trial ironman levels of nutrition and determine the upper limits of what you can absorb.
    2. maximal replenishment rates of 90kcal/hr+ are contingent upon daily intakes of at least 8g/kg/day (Blom, 1987). Those with better trained glycogen storage may benefit from intakes as high as 10-12g/kg/day! (Burke, 2004).
  • Alternate hard and easy days. Recognize that for each big day, an easier day of ~50% load/volume will be needed to get back to baseline CHO stores even if you fuel appropriately.
  • Prioritize carbohydrate but recognize the importance of trying to also keep up with general caloric/protein, fat and micronutrient requirements. Neglecting these can have deleterious effect on both your metabolic profile and on your immune/anti-inflammatory response at a time when both are needed the most!

Finally, if there is ever a time to track carbs and calories — given the significance of the relationship between training and fueling — training camps are it. Make certain you get enough to fuel the training. After all, you’ve paid good money, travelled many miles and given yourself time away from work so that you can focus on training. There’s nothing worse that being forced to miss it purely because you were a little careless with your re-fueling strategy.

Train Smart.

Categories: Nutrition, Training

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Alan Couzens

You can contact Alan at alan.couzens@gmail.com