Inadequate fueling. A common mistake of many athletes.

Sep 12, 2021Nutrition

If you not only want to maintain weight but also feel energetic and light, it is important what foods you eat and how you distribute them during the day. Did you know that you can take in enough calories but still stagnate in your training or feel heavy?

The typical signs of inadequate fueling include:

  • Your performance during training is lower despite giving it your all
  • Gradual loss of performance
  • Stagnation in training
  • Delayed recovery between training sessions
  • Skipping or missing menstrual cycle (Female athlete triad)
  • The body holds onto more fat
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Fatigue throughout the day
  • Cravings in the evenings (especially sweets cravings)
  • No motivation for training

If you spot multiple of these signs, there is a good chance you are underfueling.

Clinically, it is called relative energy deficit or RED-S, which manifests itself mainly in athletes with high energy expenditure and insufficient energy intake. Although until recently RED-S was more pronounced in the female population, it was because men did not receive enough attention in this regard.

While in women we can observe skipping or missing menstruation cycle as a quick sign that they do not have enough energy intake, in the male population the symptoms do not occur so quickly. However, this does not mean that something is not happening!

What are some of the best practices to make sure you are fueling enough for your workouts so you feel light and energetic for your training.

Best Practices for proper fueling?

  • Eat 3-6 times a day – smaller meals are digested more quickly and make you feel lighter.
  • Include pre-workout snacks if your training is more than 4 hours after your main meal.
  • Fuel during sessions longer than 60 minutes.
  • If you had no pre-workout, and after training you have more than an hour till your next meal, include postworkout protein and carbs, ideally in 1:3 ratio. (banana and a scoop of protein)
  • Don’t skip breakfast, even if your workout is in the evening.
  • If you are training hard 10 or more hours a week, then don’t limit carbs on your rest days. – you have relatively high physical activity, even if it doesn’t feel hard.

Why do athletes have trouble getting enough carbohydrates in their diet?

There are several reasons why athletes try to eat carbs with the problem of eating enough carbs. Some are physiological, some mental.

However, if your appetite is low, it may be due to exercise-induced stress or suboptimal food choices.

Typical cases are vegans, but also people who try to eat healthily. Their diet is dominated by vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts, and legumes. While such a diet is undoubtedly healthy and helps to lose weight and subsequently maintain weight, it prevents people with high energy demands from getting sufficient energy.

Legumes, vegetables, whole grains are full of fiber, which is essential for the satiety and the health of the digestive tract.

In addition, vegetables are low in calories. Therefore, an athlete with a high energy expenditure should not have diet centered around vegetables but rather look at higher calorie sources of healthy nutrients.

Lean meat provides high-quality proteins, but at the same time, it can feel heavy for an athlete. Excessive protein intake is also not a benefit if it prevents the athlete from consuming sufficient total energy and carbohydrates. Quantity is essential! You do not need to eat 400g of chicken breast 3 times a day. 100g of chicken breast contains approx. 30g of protein.

If you eat a diet high in fiber and protein, you will have trouble eating enough calories and carbs. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the diet during the day and at times around your training differently.

Psychological aspects of underfueling

The psychological aspect is also important and I deal with it mainly in personal work with clients, because each person is psychologically very different.

In general, there are several dysfunctional patterns of thinking that athletes have.

“It’s only 10km, that doesn’t even count as training.”

Whether you consider running 10 km as training or not, the fact remains that you had to spend energy on it. Just because running 10km now seems easier compared to when you started with running, it doesn’t mean you’re not spending energy.

“Today I have a day off and I should eat less.”

If you are active outside of training, e.g. you walk 10,000 steps, or you have a job where you are physically active, you are expending energy. This energy expenditure can easily exceed the energy expended during training.

In addition, the training volume during the week should be taken into account. If you train e.g. 9 hours or more a week, you don’t need to eat enough calories and carbs. Therefore, limiting food during rest days can lead to insufficient energy intake in terms of the week.

“Unless I’m training hard, I don’t need as much energy.”

You may not feel this way, but you can burn more energy during light activity than during intense training. This is mainly because we cannot train at high intensity for long. On the other hand, we can walk for hours and not feel exhausted. Evaluating the activity in terms of intensity is not at all beneficial. (see table below)

In the table, you will find an example of the energy expenditure of 70 kg (154 lbs) runner who runs 10 km (6.2mi).

Pace (min per km) min per mile Energy expenditure
6:00 9:39 720
5:30 8:51 741
5:00 8:03 698
4:30 7:14 678
4:00 6:26 627

The data in the table is based on https://caloriesburnedhq.com/calories-burned-running/ and your individual expenditure may vary. The table serves to illustrate the principle.

As you can see, the runner has the biggest energy expenditure at a pace of 5:30 per km. Faster pace and more effort does not automatically mean more energy expenditure.

After intense strength training, people usually feel hungry. After intense cardio, quite the opposite. Here you need to look at the facts, not just the feelings.

Learn how to best fuel your body

If you want to learn how to best fuel your body, stop tracking your food and meet with Daniel who specializes in sports nutrition and can help you create a sustainable diet/food plan that fits your unique needs and lifestyle.

  1. Click the link below
  2. Fill-in the intake form
  3. Wait for my email to schedule a strategy call. I reply within 24 hours.

Looking forward to hear from you,

Daniel

Lean, powerful, healthy with nutrition approach that works for you

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