Fuelling up for long training sessions

Regardless of your sport, if you’re an endurance athlete heading out for a big session (ie, longer than 90mins), eating appropriately before hand can be the key to if you have a great training session or not. But why is it so important?

Our muscles contain a substance called glycogen. Glycogen is carbohydrate in storage form, ready to be used by our muscles as a source of energy when we are participating in physical activity. Research indicates that these stores start to deplete after approximately 45 minutes; after 90 minutes, these stores are all but gone, in the muscles which are predominantly being used. And the glycogen is unable to move from muscle to muscle. What’s in your bicep (for example) can’t be transferred to that in your glutes when they are running low.

Eating before physical activity tops up your glycogen stores, meaning your body is in prime condition to perform at its best.

If you’re event or training sessions is going for longer four hours, some newer research shows that including a small amount of protein can also be beneficial, as this may help slow down muscle protein degradation, meaning once the training session is finished, you’re less likely to be as sore, or have used muscle as an energy source.


What are my top five pre-work out meals or snacks?

  • Blueberries + weetbix + milk
  • Smoothie
  • Honey toast
  • Vegemite toast
  • Oats + fruit + yoghurt
  • Banana

Do I need to fuel for short training sessions?

Recently I talked about training for short sessions, and about pre race meals. Do you need to fuel up for every single session though?

The answer is no, and it can be beneficial not to.

The rule of thumb to go by is that if the session is early morning, less than an hour, and cardio based, doing it fasted can be great; there’s no wait time for digestion, and research shows that training with low carbohydrate availability can actually result in improved performance. If it’s still cardio but in the afternoon, either leave a couple of hours between the session and lunch, or have a banana or muesli bar about an hour before hand.

If the session is a weights or resistance based session, it is always recommended to eat something. Doing weights fasted increases the risk of using your muscles as a source of energy, essentially halting the gains you are actually training for.

Some of the rugby players and swimmers I work with in particularly find eating before training difficult, due to starting so early. Best choices when starting super early are usually fluid based, as they will digest more quickly and often sit better than food.  A milk based drink (eg a banana smoothie, milo, or simply honey in milk), fruit juice, or a sports drink are all suitable. If food sits well, see above about fuelling up for a long session for breakfast ideas.


About Chloe McLeod