In this post you learn 5 actionable steps to create a nutrition plan for training and racing. In fact, this is the exact process that partners like Alpecin-Deceuninck Cycling Team and the Belgium Triathlon Federation use to create a fueling plan. So if you want to know what and how much you should eat during training and racing, then you’ll love this actionable step-by-step guide. Let’s get started…
Step 1: Perform a metabolic test
A metabolic test is a simple test that you can perform at home. But it’s a vital step. Here’s why:
Before you can create a fueling plan, you need to understand how much energy it takes to exercise at a certain intensity (energy metabolism). More specifically: you need to know how much fat vs carbohydrates you burn (substrate utilization).
This may sound like a hurdle, but it’s not.
INSCYD coaches and labs are able to (remotely) test your metabolic performance. You only need a power meter (cycling) or GPS watch (running). For other sports like swimming, a simple lactate test is enough.
Sure, if you want to go to a lab and measure VO2, that’s possible too.
Once you’ve completed the test, you get a full 360° view on all performance relevant metrics, including your fat and carbohydrate combustion.
Step 2: Determine your exercise intensity
A nutrition plan is highly individual and depends on the type of training or race you’re facing.
After completing the metabolic test, it’s time to determine the pace of your training or race. This is easier for time trials, marathons and triathlons than for a fixed gear crit. But it’s possible either way.
You can use historical data, e.g. by looking at a Strava file from a similar race in the past. You can also predict the intensity, e.g. because you want to run a marathon in 3 hours.
In this example, we’re going to look at a long 4,5 hour cycling training with 4x 20 minutes threshold intervals and 4x 5 minutes “VO2max intervals”. Here’s how that would look like:
Here are the details of the workout*:
- Warming up: 15’ @160 watts
- Threshold intervals: 4x 20’ @270 watts
- VO2max intervals: 4x 5’ @320 watts
- In between intervals: 7x 20’ @200 watts
- Cooling down: 15’ @160 watts
Total duration: 270 minutes (4,5 hours)
*Runners can use power or speed/pace as the intensity. Swimmers can use speed.
Note that you can also apply this step to a race. Simply divide the race into sections and determine the duration and intensity of each section separately.
For example, you can divide the cyclosportive La Marmotte into 8 sections:
You don’t need to know the exact details to come up with a proper fueling plan.
Step 3: Find the corresponding energy cost
You can now link the exercise intensity with the metabolic test.
Here’s an example of the fat and carbohydrate combustion graph that you’ll get after completing an INSCYD metabolic test:
Since we all have enough fat stored in our body, we only need to look at the carbohydrate combustion. As you can see, the carbohydrate (red) combustion rate (y-axis) depends on intensity (x-axis).
Now that we have the intensity, duration and carb combustion, you can easily calculate how much carbs you burn during our example workout.
In the INSCYD software, you can hover over the graph to get the exact numbers. This shows that the carb combustion rate at an intensity of 270 watts equals 219 grams of carbs per hour:
Let’s now do that for all intensities and calculate the amount of carbs in total:
|Warming up:||15’ @160 watts||46 g/h||= 11,5 g in total|
|Threshold intervals:||4x 20’ @270 watts||219 g/h||= 292 g in total|
|VO2max intervals:||4x 5’ @320 watts||448 g/h||= 149 g in total|
|In between:||7x 20’ @200 watts||78 g/h||= 182 g in total|
|Cooling down:||15’ @160 watts||46 g/h||= 11,5 g in total|
|Total duration:||270 minutes (4,5 hours)||= 646 g in total|
15’ @160 watts
4x 20’ @270 watts
4x 5’ @320 watts
7x 20’ @200 watts
15’ @160 watts
270 minutes (4,5 hours)
= 11,5 g in total
= 292 g in total
= 149 g in total
= 182 g in total
= 11,5 g in total
= 646 g in total
You now know exactly how much carbohydrates you’re going to burn during our example workout. But this does not equal the required intake for your fueling plan!
If you’re interested in learning more about how INSCYD can help optimize your athletes’’ training and nutrition, book a free call consultation with our team of experts today. Discover how we can help you create personalized training and nutrition plans that maximize your athletes’ performance.
Step 4: Subtract your energy stores (glycogen)
You’re about to burn 646 grams of carbohydrates in a 4,5 hour workout. Luckily, you already have some energy stored in the muscles.
The carbohydrate stores in your muscles are called glycogen. The INSCYD metabolic report of your test (step 1) shows the amount of glycogen that is available:
As the image shows, our example athlete has 412 grams of glycogen available.
When it comes to glycogen, it’s better to be on the safe side. Don’t rely on your glycogen 100%. In other words, keep a buffer of say 10%. That leaves us with a glycogen availability of 370 grams.
Now it’s just a simple calculation.
Carbohydrate intake = carbohydrate combustion (step 3) – glycogen availability (step 4)
Carbohydrate intake = 646 grams – 370 grams
Carbohydrate intake = 276 grams
So in our 4,5 hour ride, we need to make sure we consume at least 276 grams of carbohydrates.
Note that this is a recommendation for a standalone workout. If you’re planning on doing another intense workout tomorrow, you better consume a bit more than 108 grams of carbs. Simple because you will not be able to replenish your glycogen stores fully within 24 hours.
On to the last step!
Step 5: Decide on what to eat and drink
Now that you know how much carbs you want to consume, things get very practical.
First make sure you take enough drinks, bars, gels etc. with you. For example:
2x 0.75L sports drinks (80 grams per liter) = 120 grams of carbs
4x energy bar (30 grams per bar) = 120 grams of carbs
2x energy gel (20 grams per gel) = 40 grams of carbs
Total amount of carbs = 280 grams
Now make sure you spread these drinks, bars and gels over the course of a 4,5 hour workout. This means you should eat roughly 1 bar/gel per 45 minutes, combined with the energy drink.
Note that the carb intake will equal a little over 60 grams per hour (280g / 4.5h). This can be challenging for some athletes. Practice will help over time. What also helps is to aim for a 2:1 glucose:fructose ratio in your energy consumption.
Eventually there’s a maximal carbohydrate absorption (in the intestine). A carb intake above 90 grams per hour starts to become impossible, unless your gut is highly trained.
When your workout requires such high carb intakes, you might need to decrease the intensity of your training or racing plan.
That’s it! You now have a highly individual nutrition plan!
These 5 actionable steps will help you create a nutrition plan for training and racing. Here’s a quick recap:
- Perform a test to get to know your metabolic profile. Athletes can find an INSCYD coach via this link. Coaches and labs can become an INSCYD user via a free demo.
- Determine the training or race intensity. One way is to look at historical data. Make sure to split your training or race into several sections.
- Find the corresponding energy cost in the metabolic profile report. You only need to look at the carbohydrate combustion rate.
- Subtract the glycogen stores to understand the required carbohydrate intake during the workout. You can find your personal glycogen stores in the INSCYD report.
- Match the energy requirements with specific drinks, bars, gels etc.
You now have a highly individual nutrition (fueling) plan for your training or race!
Learn more about the details via our article about glycogen or download our white paper about the interaction between carbohydrate intake and race pacing.
If you are a coach or lab and you have any further questions or need additional guidance, we encourage you to schedule a free consultation with us. Don’t hesitate to reach out and discover the power of personalized nutrition planning.
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