46: Fueling for Endurance Training & Racing
Kristi Spence, MS, RDN, CSSD is back on NMP to share her experience and wisdom about how to properly fuel your body for endurance training. Not only is she a certified specialist in sports dietetics, but she also went to the Olympic trials a few years back for the marathon! Kristi talks about how to maintain a healthy relationship with food and your body through the process of training for an endurance sport.
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Paige: Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. I’m Paige, your host and I wanted to just give a little shout out to everybody who has been leaving reviews on itunes and also the few people out there who’ve contributed to this project financially. I really appreciate that. This is a fun project and just so everybody knows, the goal is just to provide a free resource for compassionate and evidence based information. So, you know, I don’t expect to get paid, but I do really appreciate when people donate--even if it’s just a little bit, it helps just to keep up with the cost of running the website and paying for the hosting fees. So, with that little introduction, today I have with me Kristi Spence, who has been on the podcast in the past. She came on to talk about dairy and she answered a lot of our controversial questions I hear a lot in my office about dairy. She also has a really great background in sports and she’s a registered dietitian, as all of you know. So she--I invited her to come back because she was such a great guest and she had a lot of fun. At least she mentioned she had a lot of fun doing this with me, so I wanted to pick her brain a little bit more because I know she has a lot to offer, so she’s here to talk about fueling for endurance training and racing because as she’ll mention, she has a background in that. So Kristi, welcome to the show!
Kristi: Thanks so much Paige. It’s great to be back.
Paige: Yay! Alright, well fill us in about your history with your experience on college athletics and just how you feel comfortable to chat about this in depth.
Kristi: Sure! Absolutely! So, when I first started in dietetics, my emphasis was in sports nutrition and the reason that I got into that, I was a college athlete, so I ran in college. I ran at Princeton. So for four years I was on the cross country team and then the indoor track and outdoor track teams. And while I was there, I really had no interest education wise in nutrition, partly because I never knew that that was a field I could actually go into. I was at the liberal arts school. That wasn’t something that was kind of top of mind, but our coach one time brought in a dietitian to talk to our team and it was just the campus dietitian and she worked with food service and did a great job in her area, but she was not a sports dietitian. There really weren’t very many sports dietitians back then--this was the late 90’s--and it seemed to do more harm than good and raise more questions than it answered. She came in with food models and talked a lot about portion sizes and what we should be eating, but didn’t tailor it to athletes at all. It was just what people should be eating and I think all of us freaked out a little bit when we realized we piled probably three or four servings worth of spaghetti on our plates at night and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, am I doing something wrong?’ I left that meeting feeling--I think I was a junior at the time--and I left feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh! I wish I had something that was tailored to me or that someone was explaining exactly what I needed as a college athlete.’ I had struggled a little bit my freshmen year with exactly what I should be eating and what I should look like as a distance runner. I was fairly new as a distance runner even though I was running in college. So, it raised a lot of question and then four years later, I took some time off--not time off, but time off from school and did lots of different things and realized I could actually marry the field of sports that I was interested in and nutrition and actually get a degree in sports dietetics or get a degree in nutrition and an emphasis in sports dietetics. The credential became available soon after I finished school to become a certified specialist in sports dietetics and so I went that route. I continued running after college and actually got into running marathons, and then ran competitively from 2004-2008 and went to the Olympic trials in the marathon. It was a really fun ride and I think my personal experiences with just trials and tribulations of figuring out what to eat for endurance exercise helped me be a better sports dietitian…
Paige: Of course.
Kristi: ...so that’s a little bit about my background.
Paige: I did not know that about the Olympic trials Kristi! That’s so cool!
Kristi: Yeah! Thanks! It was a lot of fun.
Paige: Ugh, that’s really cool! Not everybody can say that. Not many people can say that.
Kristi: No. It’s funny how it happened actually. My husband...we moved out to Utah--which is , you know, where I live now--for my husband to train. We met in college. He was also a runner. He moved out here to train. He’s a steeplechaser and I just thought, well he’s training hard, I’ll just see what I can do in the marathon. It surprised me too. I thought, ‘Eh, we’ll see,’ and it ended up being a lot of fun.
Paige: A lot of Olympians train out here in Salt Lake City.
Kristi: They do. Utah in general, and Salt Lake and Park City are just kind of a mecca for endurance athletes and just athletes. And the U.S. speed skating team is housed in Salt Lake City and then U.S. snowboard and skiing are actually up in Park City. So…
Paige: So, fun fact for the listeners to appreciate Utah a little more. (laughing)
Kristi: That’s right! That’s right! (laughing)
Paige: That’s fun. I loved that. Okay, so that is a very good kind of overview about your background and um, talk about kind of what you did after you got your degree in dietetics and what you did up until this point working for the Dairy Council. You were involved with umm, athletes and working with athletes on the collegiate level and especially eating disorders. Is that right? Do I have that correct?
Kristi: Yeah, so I worked for a local hospital organization, Intermountain Healthcare and they have an orthopedic specialty hospital. I worked there first as a research assistant under the sports dietitian that was there and then she actually ended up moving on in her career and I took over her position. So I was part of a sports science team that had a position for nutrition which actually my predecessor had created and it was terrific. More and more of those types of positions exist now, but it was fairly novel at the time. My role was really to not only see patients but to offer sports nutrition clinics and services for athletes of all types and varieties. I worked a lot with young athletes. We had a program called BEST, which is Better Eating and Safer Training and we actually had a kitchen on site and so I did a lot of cooking classes and workshops...everything from how to pack a travel pack for high school athletes to what should high school athletes be eating for dinner, for snacks or how to construct a meal and then we also did clinics for adults, specifically endurance athletes. It was a lot of fun. We’d have people come in for dinner and we’d cook together and talk about nutrition and we’d kind of share a lot of information, but do it in a setting where there was food around so that we could provide real practical examples for people. That’s what I loved, is giving people real solutions. I wasn’t just talking at them. I felt like we were kind of collaborating and working together and then enjoying food together.
Paige: That’s a dream job!
Kristi: It was! It was a lot of fun.
Paige: That’s awesome.
Kristi: And then as part of my job I did see patients and increasingly--I was there for five years--increasingly as my time went on, a lot of my clietel became athletes who did have disordered eating or full blown eating disorders, so I did a lot of work with that population before I ended up moving on in my career. And I still do some. I’ll do some very occasionally because my time is very limited, but I’m still involved with the sports nutrition community from kind of an academic standpoint, working on editing a newsletter and then also, with some collegiate athletes as they need help. Sometimes they’re referred to me…
Kristi: ...and I’ll do some one-on-one counseling.
Paige: Okay, well great! That’s awesome. So you brought up something that I think might surprise some of the listeners who maybe aren’t aware of some of the issues with athletes, so let’s start there and talk about why..like what makes an athlete more prone to--or not more prone. Maybe that’s not a fair thing to say, but why do disordered eating and eating disorders often go hand in hand with being a really competitive athlete. Like what would you have to say about that?
Kristi: You know it’s interesting and I don’t know if there’s umm one thing that I can really point to, but I think that there are a lot of interesting things and some correlations. One is that we see a higher prevalence of disordered eating patterns in specific sports. So if you think about lean build sports or aesthetic sports. Aesthetic sports are things like figure skating and gymnastics and diving--sports where you’re judged on your performance and some of that really is impacted by the way you look. So I think those sports for a long time have faced you know some of these kinds of issues. And then lean build sports, so endurance sports, so the one I’m closest to obviously is running, but I did see a lot of runners who came in with questions about you know what they really should be eating. I think that there’s a couple of challenges. One is when you start college, it’s a transition for a lot of people and so they’re entering into a new environment. A lot of people have never been away from home before and you also--whether this is right or wrong and probably girls do this maybe more to more of an extent than guys, but not necessarily--you compare yourself to one another. So when you step to the starting line in a race or if you’re swimmer or if you’re a cyclist, you look around at the other runners, the other people you’re competing against--especially the good ones--and you see what they look like and I think you immediately ask yourself this question of, ‘Do I need to look like that?’ and a lot of the work that I’ve done with people has been accepting that everyone...you can run and you can perform really well at all different body types and sizes and that you shouldn’t try to force yourself to look like someone else. That said, it’s still a big challenge and you know I think there is when you look at the elite athletes that are lining up at some of the top marathons around the world, they are really thin. They’ve also been training for years and years and years, so I don’t think that...and some of them are unbelievably healthy and some of them are not healthy. So, a lot of the work I do with people is trying to get them to figure out what’s gonna work best for me? What’s my ideal body weight? My ideal eating plan? What do I feel really good about? How can I develop a healthy relationship with food that kind of encompassing all of those things without doing too much outward comparing.
Paige: Yeah, yeah.
Kristi: So, I think those are some of the things--I think of course and this affects all girls and boys and not just athletes, but there’s a lot of societal pressures. There's a lot of weirdness around food. I think just people are so worried what to eat, what not to eat and what’s actually healthy or not healthy or good for you, and I think that trickles down to young kids. They watch whether it’s what their parents are doing of their friends are doing or what they see in the media, and instead of having a healthy relationship with food you know food becomes kind of this moral issue, which I’m sure you’ve talked about on your podcast before.
Paige: Definifetly, we have. And wouldn’t you say umm another thing is just always trying to get that edge up on your competitiveness and how well you compete with your peers and you know you can train and train and train and then at some point you take a look at how you’re sleeping and at another point you look at how you’re hydrating and you know it’s only natural to kind of take a look at well what am I putting into my body. So, sort of an innocent dive into how can I improve my eating or how can I optimize my nutrition can sort of be this--for some people--sort of a tail spin into some dangerous waters.
Kristi: Absolutely and you know often when I give talks or talk to people, I mention that you know paying attention to nutrition and sleep--exactly the things you mentioned--can give people a leg up because if you know...you can’t change your genetics but that’s only going to get you so far and if you are willing to look at all the peripherals and work a little bit harder, umm yes, it can make a huge, huge difference. So I think nutrition is hugely important. It’s just--you’re right--sometimes I think we can become too laser focused on that, that it spirals. But you saying that made me think of a couple of other things. One is that there is this tightrope that athletes are walking between you don’t want too much excess weight because that does you know slow you down or it can impact your performance, but you also don’t wanna be too light and lean because what can also negatively impact your performance. And so, I always try to tell people there’s a range that you’re walking. It’s not like it’s, you know, one pound that you’re trying to stay on because that’s really stressful for people. But you are trying to maximize performance and health and not tip the scale too far to either direction and that can be stressful. And a lot of the personalities that are drawn toward endurance sports naturally tend to be people who like to control things and often in the people that I’ve seen develop eating disorders, they’re people who you know like some rigidity and structure and food becomes…
Paige: And competitive, right?
Kristi: And competitive, and food becomes something that you can control…
Kristi: ...and count and so it’s a balancing act.
Paige: It is. And I think a big thing we’re trying to ban acne is our mental health too as we’re working on you know, physical improvements and enhancements with our performance you always have to kind of ask what cost does that take to my well being as a human being. So, yeah, I think that’s a good foundation to sort of have this conversation about fueling. I think before we go into it I just had a little thought. I really think there’s sort of a problem out there from what I’ve seen in my experience working with individuals is I think there’s sort of a misconception of what endurance training is and when intentional numbers focused fueling is necessary and when it’s just the average person exercising and trying to be active. Let’s draw some distinctions there--and that’s not to make someone who’s the average person turn this off and not listen. I just think sometimes I see people get so clinical about their 20 minute jog, now they have to go fuel all this crazy protein and whatever. It just gets a little pathological sometimes, so let’s talk about what’s our scope here. Who are we talking to when we’re having this conversation today?
Kristi: Sure. So when I think we think truly about sports nutrition and refueling and making sure you’re recovering from one bout of exercise to get ready for the next one, you’re looking at pretty intense endurance training, so I’ll put out the far end of the spectrum first. Someone who’s training for an Ironman or someone who’s a serious endurance cyclist and they’re out on the bike for three, four, five hours every single day. That’s pretty high, intense training. On the other end of the spectrum is someone who is just being really diligent about getting in their 30 or even 60 minute workout a day. On that side of the spectrum I don’t think we really need to….I think we need to have a balanced diet over a 24 hour period, but I think a balanced diet is going to replenish and give you everything that you need. I don’t think that you absolutely need to focus on fueling before the workout, fueling during the workout, or fueling after the workout. In the middle I think is where a lot of your listeners may fall and it’s people who say, ‘You know, I really want to try and run a marathon. That’s something that I’d really like to train for.’ For the average person that’s just training for a marathon, yes the marathon is a true endurance event and I think that especially in the long runs leading up to the marathon, you really need to practice fueling because you’re going to be doing that during the race. But for your normal day to day training, if someone is getting out there even if it’s five days a week running, most of those runs aren’t very long or very intense, so I don’t think a lot of the...I think the casual exerciser, that concept still applies. Just eat a balanced overall diet. Some of the tenants of sports nutrition apply to what a well balanced diet looks like. But I think the true when we think about fueling pre, during, post and maybe using some specialty products don’t really apply unless you start doing activity that’s lasting more than 90 minutes.
Paige: Okay, that’s great.
Kristi: Does that help?
Paige: Yeah, that does. I think we need to touch on those folks in the middle. I think that’s kind of where we’re going to try to talk today. Those people who just do their 30 to 60 minute workout, I think it’s just fair to say you probably just need to focus on a well balanced diet and not a fad diet; just a way of eating. You don’t necessarily need to really stress out about the perfect thing to eat before, during, or after.
Kristi: No, not at all. And the reason is, is that you’re not tapping into your body’s reserves at all. When we think of endurance exercise, the reason that we focus on pre, during, and post nutrition or training is because our body has carbohydrate that it stores inside it’s muscles and that’s called glycogen. We have a finite amount of that and so after about 90 minutes--assuming that we started off with kind of a full gas tank of glycogen--our body has depleted that. We want to make sure that to avoid--you know we’ve all hear the term “hitting the wall” or “bonking” in an endurance event--to avoid reaching that state, that we can actually provide our body with some outside fuel sources to compensate for the carbohydrate that it’s naturally depleting. That’s what starts to happen after about 90 minutes of exercise and so that’s why I say for someone who’s even casually training for a marathon, you do have to put in a lot of time doing long runs in order to prepare for what the marathon is actually going to entail. Practicing some of these things in those specific situations will help. That's what some specific sport nutrition products are designed for, so we can talk about that.
Paige: Cool. That sounds good. Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about you and your experiences with training and racing throughout your life. Just talk about times where maybe you were trying to figure out what worked for you and what that was like.
Kristi: Sure, so I guess with respect to endurance exercise, when I started...when I ran my first marathon I really had no idea what I was doing. I was fairly recently out of college...a coupe of years out of college and I thought, ‘I’ll just do a marathon.’ I think the longest run I did prior to a marathon was sixteen miles. Then when I hit the sixteen mile mark in the marathon, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. What have I done? I still have ten more miles to go.’ It went fine, but I had not practiced eating. This was before I had my epiphany about actually studying sports nutrition, so I really knew nothing. I hadn’t practiced eating. I wasn't hydrating. I was kind of just going into this marathon blindly. I had a very finicky stomach and so I was unwilling really. I just kind of thought, ‘Well, I’ll just get through it and I’ll be fine.’ Well, I didn’t feel very good from about mile eighteen on. But, I got through that experience and ended up continuing. What I had to do for subsequent marathons was I really had to train my body how to eat before training and during training. I sacrificed so many runs with trial and error and ending up in porta potties just because I was trying to get my stomach to adapt to what it needed to adapt to to have the fuel it needed and not get depleted. So for me it was really hard. I’d watch my husband, who could eat an entire bowl of cereal and have a glass of orange juice and go run; go right out the door and have no problem. I’d think, ‘Oh my gosh, if only I could eat something before I ran.’ But, I was able to train myself to do that and that I think was hugely beneficial. I share that experience just so that people don’t feel like, ‘Oh well, this is just me. I can’t do it.’ There are different products out there that you can try. You can try playing around with timing, with amounts, with adding a little bit of protein, or not adding a little bit of protein. The good thing to know is there are a lot of different combinations of foods that you can try and then coupling that with hydration and figuring out what works. The second thing to note is that your body will adapt. It can get used to running with something in your stomach and it’s not going to cause GI distress every time. That’s why I always, always, always encourage people to practice in training and maybe sacrifice a few of those training runs so that you actually end up having a successful competitive experience.
Paige: I’m hearing a lot of individuality there right? Your husband can eat whatever before and be fine and you couldn't, so you had to figure out what worked for you. We’ll throw out ideas about what might work for people, but it’s not this sure fire like everybody do this right?
Kristi: Exactly. It’s a very individual thing. One of the things with college athletes--and no they’re not running marathons--but that I’ve worked on is, you don’t have to eat what your teammates eat. If you don’t want to have pasta the night before a race, you don’t have to do that. Get another carbohydrate rich food. If you like rice better, if you like potatoes better, if you like winter squash better, go with that as your carbohydrate base. Just because the majority of people tend to have pasta, you’re teammates are doing this, it isn’t necessarily what you need to do. Also, get people to kind of think outside the box. If non-breakfast foods work better for you, even though it’s the morning, you don’t have to confine yourself to eating breakfast foods just because it’s the morning.
Kristi: You can use these combinations.
Paige: Cool. So you’ve had experiences where you haven’t done very well fueling your body and then you’ve had experiences where you’ve kind of figured it out. So I guess now’s a good time to sort of get into the nitty gritty. What do you suggest people do before...what are the principles of fueling before, during, and after an endurance event.
Kristi: Sure. So before, I think the goal is looking at one to four hours before exercise. You’re looking at getting kind of your last meal. So for a lot of people, if you’re training first thing in the morning, that can be kind of a challenge. You’re like, ‘One to four hours? Oh my gosh. If I’m going to go out for my run at 6 a.m., I’m not going to get up at 3 a.m. to get my meal.’ So obviously there are things that we can do to work on that timing issue, but that’s kind of the general rule is one to four hours. If you end up eating an hour before, that meal is obviously going to be a little bit smaller than a meal you could potentially eat four hours before. I think this is where playing around with timing can be….it’s a real personal thing. So what I would typically end up doing for me is that if I had time...so if it was a race type of a situation, I would get up and make sure I had my meal that morning before the race three hours before. Then in probably the fifteen minutes before, I would sip on a sports drink or have one of those energy gels. Something to give my body a last little burst of carbohydrate right before I started, but I would do that definitely within fifteen minutes. If it was just a training run and say I was going out for an hour and I just wanted to practice giving my body something to eat before I actually went out the door, what I would do is I would eat again within fifteen minutes--and I’ll explain why closer is a little bit better--but I would have maybe a piece of toast with honey on it or toast with a light spread of peanut butter and some honey, and just train my body to get used to running with a little bit of something in my stomach so that it didn’t always automatically reject it. That seemed to really work for me. Now, the reason that...so if you’re not going to get up with an hour or more and have something before a long bout of exercise, my recommendation would be to go--if you have a finicky stomach that is--as close to the exercise as you can. Even as close as like five minutes before you walk out the door. The reason is, there’s some evidence in some people--again everyone’s an individual--that if you eat within this 30 or 40 minute window, you might end up kind of experiencing once you start running--maybe 15 minutes into your run or your exercise--you might experience a little bit of hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar might drop. You can get a little bit lightheaded and see spots a little bit. It’s nothing that you can’t run through, but it’s pretty uncomfortable. That’s something I would experience. The reason for that is your body has diverted blood flow to your gut to start digesting the food and so you end up having a little bit less blood flow to handle the insulin that’s in your body. It affects some people, doesn’t affect others, but if you are sensitive to that I would recommend eating closer to when you walk out the door, than kind of within that 30 to 45 minute window. Foods that are good before exercise, especially if you’re closer to actually starting your exercise bout, you’re looking for something that’s high in carbohydrate, easily digestible, very moderate in protein and then lower in fat. The reason is that protein and fat are going to slow digestion and so if you don’t have a lot of time, you don’t want that food sitting in your gut for a long period of time. Simple carbohydrates tend to be a little bit better just because they’re shuttled into your glycogen reserves a little bit faster. Your body can digest and absorb them and actually put them in a spot as usable, ready fuel more quickly than it can complex carbohydrates. But again, it’s what your body’s used to. When I say simple carbohydrates, I’m talking about the difference in white bread versus whole wheat bread for your piece of toast. This is again what your body’s used to. If you’re used to routinely eating whole wheat, more complex carbohydrates, the added fiber probably isn’t going to bother you. If you’re not used to eating that, that’s not something I would recommend right before exercise just because it could cause your stomach to be a little bit upset. So right before exercise is actually a pretty good time for more refined, simple carbohydrates when you’re looking at optimizing performance and fuel utilization for getting through that exercise.
Paige: Great! How about during? So let’s say like a marathon or a really long cycling race or something along those lines.
Kristi: So during, I don’t think you really even need to consider fueling during unless your activity is at 90 minutes or beyond. Then you do because then you run the risk of depleting your fuel--your glycogen stores--internally and you’re going to need some sort of extra outside source of energy.
Paige: Will you necessarily feel hunger? I think that’s a big question people ask, ‘Well, I don’t feel hungry.’ It’s not always about hunger and fullness with sports nutrition.
Kristi: No. Not at all. You probably won’t feel hungry. You’re so focused on doing what you're doing , you might not feel hungry. Sometimes you can actually confuse hunger and thirst when you’re working pretty hard. Making sure you’re staying hydrated will help keep a handle on your hunger. But you’re absolutely right. I think that those signals are...there’s a lot of interference going on when you’re pushing your body in an exercise endurance setting. The thing is too is that say someone was going out for a two hour cycle or training run or long bout of exercise, you would want to start fueling before that 90 minute mark. My recommendation is generally about 45 minutes into exercise, you’re looking at getting some source of outside carbohydrate. This can really be from a variety of sources. I’ll break it down into sport nutrition products that are available or whole foods that people can use. This is personal preference. Often in my work with athletes I’ve found that cyclists are able to eat a little bit more and also have a little bit more variety in what they can consume, so consume more whole foods just because they have a better way of carrying it than you actually do when you’re physically running. So there’s kind of some logistical things you can put into the mix. If you can stash food..if you’re going for a run and maybe making a loop or a circuit and you can stash food, that’s great. Some examples, there are little energy chews, like those little gummy chews that are out on the market and basically they’re just carbohydrate electrolyte chews. There are gels, energy gels, that are in packets that you can buy. The original I think sport nutrition food, I think was just sport drinks--Gatorade, Powerade. They’re not delivering quite as many carbohydrates, but the benefit there is they are also delivering hydration. So playing around with these things. Also using a combination of fuels tends to be a little bit better. So sometimes our body and our gut can actually tolerate combinations of different sugars better than it can tolerate just one single sugar. Sometimes that’s something to consider. So you’re looking at getting…
Paige: What’s an example of that? Sorry. What’s an example of combining different sugars.
Kristi: Well some of them happen naturally. Some sports drinks are going to have glucose and fructose in them.
Paige: I see what you mean.
Kristi: That’s what it would be. It’s like glucose, fructose, sucrose are going to be different types of simple sugars and the reason that combining them...they use different carriers to shuttle the sugar from--this is getting kind of technical--your gut into your bloodstream. If you saturate one--way you’re only getting glucose--the rest of it’s going to sit in your gut.
Kristi: But if you use a variety of triggers you might actually be able to digest a little bit more. The goal is to get about between --and this depends on body size and tolerance and everything else--between 30 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour when you’re exercising. Here’s an example. One of those energy gels is going to contain about 25 grams of carbohydrate and an 8 oz. cup of a sports drink is going to contain between 13-15 grams of carbohydrate. So the sport nutrition products are great and you can combine those things. I would typically get into a routine of maybe at 45 minutes I would have an energy gel and some water and then maybe 30 minutes later I would have a little sip of a sports drink. Combining those things can work. This is where your training bouts become great opportunities to see 1. What foods you like and which ones taste good. There’s a bunch of different flavors out there. The thing I struggled with the most is that a lot of sports nutrition products are very sweet and so sometimes you just face this sweet burn out and you’re like, ‘Oh I don’t want another sweet thing.’ That’s kind of the nature of it, but this is where whole foods is another category of sport nutrition that can really work. I’ve worked with cyclists--this is going to sound funny but getting those tiny little new potatoes and baking potatoes and as a cyclist you can easily keep those kind of things in your bag or just have a couple little potatoes in a ziploc baggie and pop them out and munch on those. If you coat them in salt you’re getting some electrolytes, you’re getting a good source of carbohydrate and it’s also not inherently sweet. You’re getting something that might really work for you. I’ve had other cyclists who’ve taken just plain white rolls and injected them with jam and they have these little jam rolls. Another cyclist friend used to put Fig Newtons on the stem of her bike and she would use those as fueling. You could do little peanut butter, banana sandwiches and just cut those into squares. I’ve had people who really like to have dried fruit and so they might have little raisins that they’re kind of snacking on. It really depends, but those are some ideas of whole foods versus sport nutrition foods, and then when you might be able to try these things. Another category of runner that I haven’t even talked about, but that is becoming more popular is ultra-endurance athletes, so people who are doing 50-100 mile races. Then you really do need a combination of sport foods and whole foods, but you actually have a little bit more time because you’re stopping at fueling stations. But, you also run real dehydration problems and GI problem, so practicing and figuring out what you like can really be beneficial.
Paige: Yeah. Great! So the general idea of during an endurance event is high carbohydrate, easy to digest, but also calorically dense so that you’re fueling your body.
Kristi: Right and so this general rule of like 30-60 grams of carbohydrate--and you’re really only looking at getting carbohydrate during exercise, unless it’s something that’s real long and your body can tolerate a little bit more, you know like the peanut butter sandwich example I gave you. That’s probably something that would work really well for a cyclist and not necessarily work as well for a runner. Again, personal preference. Hydration is really, really key during exercise too, so trying to balance when you’re getting little bits of food versus when you’re getting water or a sports drink to make sure that your body is staying hydrated.
Paige: Is there a rule of thumb of hydration per hour?
Kristi: No and the reason is because--and I was so glad the American College of Sports Medicine changed their guidelines to be much more individualistic because everyone sweats at different rates. Your goal is to really think about--and it helps me to conceptualize it this way even though it’s hard to quantify--but your goal is to--especially when you think about the recovery period--replenish 150% of what you’ve lost. So over the course of during and post exercise, make sure that you’re getting in as much fluid as you’ve lost during exercise plus some. People usually know if they’re heavy or light sweaters. You usually know if you’re a salty sweater or not a salty sweater. If you finish a bout of exercise and you end up with salt crystal all over your face, likely you’re losing more salt than someone who that doesn't happen to. The other thing to keep in mind is that as the temperature changes as you go from winter and more temperate climates or temperatures into summer, you need a little bit more water. The reason is that it takes several weeks for your body to actually adapt, so you’re going to sweat more. It’s just your body’s mechanism of cooling itself. You’re going to sweat more until you’ve gotten used to...kind of habituated to a warmer environment. Altitude affects hydration, so if you’re going up in altitude to compete or you train at elevation, know that that’s going to cause you to need more water. Also, don’t forget about--even in the winter--you really need to stay hydrated even if you don’t feel that strong thirst, that your thirst mechanism isn’t kicking in. The reason is that you lose a lot of water through respiration, so every time you breath in and then exhale, all of that exhaled air, that moist exhaled air is causing you to lose water. It’s something that I always struggle with. I’m not thirsty, I don’t want cold water in the winter and I feel like I always get dehydrated because I just...but you can drink warm drinks. You don’t have to just drink water. The body of what you’re consuming over the course of a day is going to contribute to your hydration status. During exercise, there’s not rule of thumb I think...
Paige: And you can’t under do it. (laughing)
Kristi: ...just be consistent. But you can over do it. Yes, there is a pretty nice window in there, but for a while hyponatremia was big thing which was if you’re consuming too much water during an endurance event and you actually end up gaining weight, what you’re doing is you’re diluting your body’s natural blood sodium levels and that can cause real serious problems. Unfortunately the symptoms are very similar to dehydration, so my rule of thumb there is you don’t want to drink excessively and also have a mixture. Make sure you’re consuming some food. Make sure you’re using some sports drinks because you want to replenish some electrolytes too and then you’re much less likely to dilute the blood concentrations of electrolytes that you naturally have as you….
Paige: Yeah, so there are some risks with hydration and nutrition during an endurance event.
Paige: It’s not something you just pick up and do. You kind of have to do your research and train and figure out what works for your body because there are dangers involved.
Kristi: Right, and I don’t want to scare people. I feel like I’m providing all this technical like, ‘This is this,’ but generally the message is if you’re doing an intense bout of exercise, training for an endurance event and you’re really going to be doing this longer than 90 minutes, it is important to figure out what works for you. But, there’s a lot of variation and a lot of play in what can work and what can make you successful. There’s not one size fits all. It’s just that the nutrition piece…
Kristi: ...and the hydration piece could really help improve your experience and your performance.
Paige: So let’s talk after a race...a race or an endurance event, what’s kind of the goal there.
Kristi: So recovery nutrition--I called it the three four rule. You wanted to have three bouts of eating within a four hour period. So the first one, which I think a lot of your listeners will be really familiar with is just this idea of getting something in within 30 minutes of a long bout of exercise or a session of exercise that was really, really intense. Say you didn’t work out for 90 minutes, but you did something for 60 or 75 minutes that was pretty intense. Maybe you were doing interval training and it was part of a broader endurance training program, you do want to pay attention to your recovery because it’s going to set your body up for the next bout of exercise and make you be just that much more successful because you’re going to recover faster. Withing that 30 minute window, you’re looking at getting something that contains fluid, something that contains mostly carbohydrate and a little bit of protein. When I say a little bit of protein, really your target is between 10 and 20 grams. More than that and your body can’t really process it. This is where drinks really end up being helpful, whether it’s making a smoothie or having chocolate milk. Chocolate milk has become a great recovery beverage option because it does have those optimal ratios of things. Often when I would finish an intense of a long training session, I wasn’t hungry. So like what you said before, the furthest thing from my mind was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go eat dinner.’ I was thirsty and I just felt depleted but usually that’s when smoothie sounded awesome. So if I could come home and I could do that or I could get some chocolate milk, I recovered so much faster. So that’s the first eating episode and I’d say within 30 minutes is ideal; definitely within an hour. Then your second eatin episode you want to be a meal. It’s usually the most logical meal that comes next and that will happen within two hours. And then maybe a small snack within this four hour period will kind of help round out this recovery process. The reason four hours seems to be this good window is because your body’s primed to recover and accept carbohydrates and store them again in your glycogen...in your muscle as glycogen within four hours. It doesn’t mean that stops after that four hour period, but it slows down. So your body’s ability to process and shuttle the nutrients back into the glycogen stores, it slows down a little bit. So, if you can pay attention to that four hour window, you’re going to be much better served. This is especially important if you’re next exercise bout is going to be within twelve hours. Say you’re someone who’s going to be doing double days training...you know a lot of triathletes are doing brick workouts--brick workouts are one workout right after the other. If you're training twice a day, say you’re running in the morning and maybe a bike in the afternoon, you want to fuel after your run to make sure you’re ready for your bike. You talked about pitfalls, and one of the things I definitely noticed is, say I went out for a long run on the weekend and it was like a two hour run on a Saturday, if I got busy and didn’t pay attention to this recovery piece after, I noticed huge differences than when i actually was really diligent about my recovery nutrition. So much so that I wouldn’t feel back to normal and that i was back into the groove training until three or four days later, if I just kind of failed to recover well. The opposite when I did recover well, I was ready to go and I felt good the next day. When you set yourself up for success by paying attention to this recovery piece.
Paige: Yeah, that’s beautifully said. So, I feel like some people might be listening and thinking ‘Well I go on hikes on Saturdays for two hours,’ you know I feel like a hike is kind of a popular one, but although that does involve endurance, it’s just not the same level of intensity that we’re talking about here. So, yeah you might need to bring food to eat during your hike. You for sure need to bring water or a sports drink, but I guess I just want you to elaborate a little bit on that. What are your thoughts...I’m just making sure people are getting the point of what we’re saying and not thinking like, ‘Oh, if I hike for 90 minutes, I have to be this intense and diligent about my nutrition.’
Kristi: That’s a great point. So it’s the combination of time and intensity that really dictates when you need to kind of fuel during and I’d really be diligent about that, or recover afterward. So the reason that I say 90 minutes for you know kind going out for--and I’m not talking about just casual bike ride but more of an intense cycling bout or running...
Paige: Right. Put on your spandex and like sweat your butt off. (laughing)
Kristi: Right. Exactly. (laughing) And kind of this magic number and I have this chart that I usually show people if you’re just exercising really casually and easily, even if you’re out there for three of four hours on a hike, it’s going to take you a long time to go through the glycogen stores that I’m talking about replenishing, but typically when we think about going out for...you know when you're training for an endurance activity and you’re going to go out for a 90 minutes run or a 90 minute bike ride, we estimate that you’re operating at about 70% of your max, whatever your max output of intensity would be. At 70% is when we tend to deplete those glycogen stores in about 90 minutes. So the less intense your exercise is, the more slowly you’re going to go through that energy source. The reason is, that intensity dictates what type of fuel our body is actually burning. If you're doing something that’s not very intense, even though it might be long, your body is utilizing more fat as an energy source and that’s just because your body has time. It can take fat, it can break it down, it can mobilize it and we typically have plenty of fat reserves to draw upon as an energy source. This doesn’t mean more fat or anything like it just means that as a substreet, we have fat we can use. Your body likes to do that. It means that it’s being very efficient. But when we’re in more of an aerobic state adn are intensity goes up, that impacts our fuel utilization and it means we’re using more carbohydrate as our energy source. So, that's the thing. It’s really the ratio of how quickly we’re fat versus carbohydrate. So if our intensity is lower, we can go much longer without needing to really make sure that we’re eating intently. I think the biggest thing with going on long hikes--because I love to hike with my family--is just to make sure you bring water because you can really get dehydrated out there and have snacks, but I don’t think you need to be diligent about eating at this time…
Paige: Have snacks, but yeah if you’re hungry do it.
Kristi: That would fall much more into the category of someone who’s more of just a recreational exerciser and your normal eating pattern would...your normal eating kind of hunger, fullness pattern would suffice in terms of fuel.
Paige: Yeah, yeah. Okay, so I have sort of a controversial question for you. Why are there so many people who are endurance athletes who are overweight? Or I know that’s not the best word to use sometimes, but sometimes it’ll just surprise you with just how much they’re exercising, how is it that their body is able to keep on some of that excess weight? Because a lot of people do train for marathons to lose weight and then they’re surprised that that might not happen for them.
Kristi: I wish I knew the answer to that question Paige. I feel like that was one of the most frustrating things I dealt with when I was actually in practice was people who would come in and when I would look at their food log and when I would look at their exercise log, I would think, ‘Oh my gosh. I don’t know.’ And they would be using endurance exercise and training as a means of losing weight and they were just really struggling with it.
Kristi: I think that there are probably tens of factors that could play into this. One is just their normal body and their metabolism are there any other metabolic things or issues or medical things that we need to consider or get a handle on that might impact that way that they utilize fuel. And I always like to look at people's eating patterns. I think if you’re using endurance exercise as a means of losing weight, there are some things that you can do even while maintaining performance you can make sure if you’re going out for a not difficult intensity morning exercise, exercise at a fasted state instead of exercising in a fueled state. Obviously you have to balance that with are you trying to practice eating before your exercise. And so there’s lots of things to consider and that’s something that I would really work with someone on an individual basis
Paige: Yeah, and sometimes it’s are you eating enough right?
Paige: A lot of people are truly just under fueling their body and their body’s like, ‘Okay, you’re going to do this amount of exercise and you’re not giving me nearly enough food to work with, so I’m just going to try to be as efficient as possible with your metabolism.’
Kristi: Absolutely and then it’s counterintuitive and it’s scary to tell people you actually need to eat more...
Kristi: ...or let’s...
Paige: I’ve had to do that a lot of times and I’ve seen it work. (laughing)
Kristi: Me too. Yeah. So, that could be some of it. Also I think it’s important to look at what are the potential changes in body composition. So maybe someone started training for an endurance event and they are actually a way healthier person overall. Their weight might be the same, but they may have gained muscle mass. They may have lost fat mass. Their body composition might have changed. They might feel better in a lot of different ways. Their lipid profile might have improved. Risk for disease has gone down. Even though they’re frustrated because the number on the scale is the same, they actually are a much healthier person for what they’re doing now. So, it takes tweeking. The other thing I think is interesting and i wish there was more out about this, is that diets in general aren’t necessarily one size fits all and I feel like this is probably the future of nutrition is figuring out how our genetics come into play. What might really work for one individual in terms of X number of carbohydrates, X amount of protein when we think of balancing our plates might not be ideal for another person. We just don’t know enough yet in terms of how to really dial this in on an individual basis, but there’s a lot of variation and when we look across the world at what people eat, we see that human beings thrive on a variety of different diets that are composed of different amounts of carbohydrate, fat, and protein, so figuring out what really does work for each individual and not being afraid to say, ‘You know what, we’re going to change things around a little bit and we’re going to not slash your carbohydrates, but typically where I would recommend 50 -60% of a diet coming from carbohydrates for an endurance athlete, I’m going to say lets cut that down a little bit and play around with the fat and protein ratios and see if you feel better, if you perform better.’ But, those are things that are hard to make general recommendations on a podcast, but I think things to consider that there isn’t a perfect diet for everyone.
Paige: Yeah and one thing i’ve seen too and I’m just curious about your thoughts are sort of what drives someone to want to become an endurance runner or cyclist. Sometimes it’s just the the love for being outside, sometimes it’s just, i’ve been an athlete my whole life and this is just what you do in adulthood. But other times it's definitely almost like a cry for help or like a last resort with trying to lose weight. Just a desperate attempt to burn a lot of calories and so I think sometimes it can mess with people’s head more than we really talk about and how you know, ‘Oh I just burned 3000 calories on my run, so I can do whatever I want with my eating.’ I think it can lead to restricting and binging and cycles of disordered eating and a really dysfunction relationship with food that maybe when they’re training they are eating one way and then when they’re not training for a race then they’re going crazy off the deep end and then they’re recommitting. I’ve seen a lot of big huge cycles and ups and downs with mental health struggles and eating and disordered eating struggles and things like that. I just wonder how much that can contribute...and that’s not as a means for us to judge someone who’s an endurance athlete adn in a larger body, but I think that’s something maybe to consider your motivation for wanting to do these endurance sports and just recognize that that’s not necessarily your ticket to a small body. Especially if your genetically just proone to have a different body than someone else. Does that make sense?
Kristi: It totally makes sense. And I really couldn’t agree more. I think that sometimes we use exercise as a means of justifying other behaviors instead of getting at the root cause of really developing a healthy relationship with food because that’s hard. Developing a healthy relationship with food if it’s not something that comes naturally to you...if it’s something that you’re stressed out about or if it’s part of a mental struggle for you is something that takes a lot of practice and work and it’s so rewarding and it's’ worth doing, but you might need help and support in figuring out what that healthy relationship is for you. Sometimes we do--we use exercise as this other balance to the scale, like, ‘Well I can do as much of this as I want as long as I go out for a run,’ and then you don’t have a healthy relationship with food or exercise.
Kristi: I think that plays into it a lot. Even a lot of the work I do with athletes who are trying to optimize their performance I’m trying to give them real specific sport nutrition recommendations, I try to make it about the bigger picture whether they want to or not.
I really try to say, you know the bigger picture is there are no foods that we should say are totally off the table that you shouldn’t eat, because the minute we do that then they become kind of these sought after, forbidden things that I think you don’t have a healthy relationship withy. And so I work much more on the wholistic approach like, ‘Hey let’s figure out how to balance hunger/satiety with the recommendations of true sports nutrition...
Paige: Well and like I think we’re balancing hunger and fullness recommendation with convenience and taste and budget and preferences and schedule, right. There’s so much to it. We’re not these robots that eat food whenever we want or don’t even care about what tastes good and what doesn’t.
Paige: We need to take into account what’s going to work for us and what fits into the bigger picture like you said.
Kristi: Absolutely, absolutely.
Paige: Well, okay, so I just want to close off this conversation with asking you about what would be your advice to someone who’s in the midst of endurance training or thinking about doing this who's also trying to come at it with this sensitive kind of body positive approach because that’s a big thing we focus on in this podcast is helping people develop a healthy relationship with food. I think we did a good job of getting into the nitty gritty of nutrition information that someone might need who’s in this state of mind, but how can we tie it into like how do we keep a healthy relationship with food and our bodies and our sense of who we are through trying to push ourselves through these limits and be competitive and some of that kind of mindset that comes along with being an athlete can be kind of difficult to balance when you’re trying to be compassionate with yourself.
Kristi: Absolutely. I guess I’d say, first think about what you brought up Paige: your motivation for exercise and where that fits in with your approach to food and see if you can marry those two things. See if you can come up with, ‘You know what, I really want to develop a healthier lifestyle overall that’s going to incorporate good nutrition.’ This goal of running a marathon or competing in a century or whatever your exercise goal is, kind of marry those two things and figure out how both of those things contribute holistically to your overall mental health and well being. So figure out that part first. How does the nutrition part and the exercise part, how do they work together and fit together. And then, look at generally--and maybe a lot of the other topics you’ve covered throughout this podcast series--but look generally at what does developing a healthy relationship with food mean to me? Am I in touch with what hunger means, what satiety means? Do I have a pretty good concept of what constitutes a meal that I not only enjoy eating, but that I feel good about eating and that puts me in the right mental state. Do I have good balance with eating foods that I truly enjoy--like can I go have a piece of cake or a cookie because I thoroughly enjoy it without being stressed out about it. So think about all those questions and think about the reason we eat. We eat not only to fuel our bodies and make sure we have enough energy to support the exercise demands that we’re putting on ourselves, but we also eat for enjoyment, for social occasions, for going out with friends. We eat because it’s a source of joy. We eat for taste. I think it's trying to balance all of those things. Another thing that I always feel is helpful is this whole concept--and I’m sure you’ve talked about this--of mindfulness and just thinking about all the things I just mentioned, but being able to slow down and really taste our food. Sometimes I think we eat just out of habit or because we get too hungry or we’re eating while we’re distracted and so if we can take a step back and say, ‘You know what, I’m really busy but I’m going to take 20 minutes or 15 minutes and just go sit at a table and eat my lunch and that’s all I’m going to do is eat my lunch instead of eating my lunch in front of my computer or eating my breakfast while driving.’ Sometimes that’s not feasible, I mean as much as I try to do that, I had to eat breakfast in the car yesterday. So, I think those are general principles that don’t apply to the exercise piece but just apply to eating generally. Then I think it’s a matter of, okay, I’ve got that piece down, now I do want to commit to doing this specific event and that’s where the nitty gritty of the sport nutrition things come into play. If I’m going to be successful and achieve not only what I want in this event, feel like I’m competitive and feel like I’ve really put in the time and the effort to do well, then paying attention to the nutrition piece is going to be important as well. That's when I can do a lot of the practicing and making sure for those intense or really long exercise bouts in preparation for my competition that I’m paying attention to the before, during, and after. But it’s not an everyday thing. I think it’s just specific to those types of things that are helping you prepare. So I guess that’s what I would say is look at the holistic approach and figure out how the exercise and nutrition part are married for you and then go from there.
Paige: Yeah and I would just add--I loved that, what you said--I would just add, just have a sense of respect and awe for what your body can do and not necessarily comparing that to someone else, but just whatever body size you’re in, just respecting and admiring the abilities that your body has to function and appreciating the fact that you get to train and you get to think about this rather than thinking about how are you going to put food on the table, you know what I mean.
Paige: I think it’s kind of--we’ve talked about this on our podcast--sort of a privilege to even be able to engage in this type of activity, you know.
Paige: To have that...have all the other luxuries and comforts of life that we can work on these other fun things. It’s really in the end it’s for fun.
Paige: It’s supposed to enhance your life and to be fun, so trying to stay positive with yourself and be positive about the things that are going right is always good.
Kristi: Absolutely. Absolutely. It is that big picture perspective is so important for putting things in perspective.
Paige: Well, thank you Kristi! Thank you for being here!
Kristi: Yeah, absolutely. It was great to be here again and thanks for having me Paige.