Two weeks ago I attended a talk on Sports Nutrition, presented by Brian Frank – the Founder and CEO of Hammer Nutrition. With 30 years of fuelling principle experience working with elites and beginners, he promised to demystify the process of fuelling and turn it on its head.
Turn it on its head is exactly what he did. With at least a hundred races under my belt and a fair understanding of fuelling during races – everything he said not to do, I’ve definitely done. Needless to say, I had to share his insights.
“Every athlete is different”
Brian disagrees. “We are pretty much the same. Intakes are not hugely variable.”
“Replace what you burn”
Brian calls this conclusion totally false. “So much time is spent discussing what you are expending – it’s totally irrelevant, it does not matter. The overriding principle is LESS IS BEST”.
His reasoning? “If you take in more than you need, it doesn’t help you. Replenish as much as your body can assimilate.” This means 1 for 1 is out. Your calorie loss does not matter.
“Don’t ask what is the most I need, Ask what is the least I need without slowing down.”
In case you’re wondering what happens if you take in more than your body can assimilate… Stomach upset, indigestion and cramping is headed your way.
Brian explained that proper hydration is misunderstood. “Most people live their lives in a constant state of dehydration yet for exercise want to take in 1000ml an hour. We’re not camels we don’t store water.”
What happens when you try to super hydrate in a short period of time, i.e. in the day or two leading up to a race?
“Attempts to super hydrate is doubly counterproductive. You’re peeing all your electrolytes out and by the time you get to the start you are already in trouble.”
He explained that dehydration during endurance events is going to happen and is unavoidable. Overhydration on the other hand is dangerous much like Tim Noakes discusses in Waterlogged.
So, How much water should you consume?
Brian put a lot of focus on achieving proper hydration in regular life – doing so relieves a lot of issues.
“You need 15-18ml of water per pound of body weight daily, in addition to your intake during exercise”
During Every Day Life
He recommends 15-18ml of water per pound of body weight daily, in addition to what you intake during exercise. And tea and coffee does not count. For me this would work out to 1650-1980ml per day and considering I sometimes struggle to get 1500ml in (including what I consume during exercise), I am definitely in a constant state of dehydration.
Reaching your target is something you should be doing gradually, over several weeks and you should make sure you get in your water 1-3 hours before bed.
Brian gave a figure of 650 to 750 ml per hour during exercise. Temperature and body weight plays a role in the figure, so lighter athletes/ cooler temperatures could go as low as 550ml but a heavier athlete/hotter temperatures would go as high as 850ml.
What happens if it’s really hot and you think you need more?
Brian cautions against exceeding these figure because your body can not process more. It takes 36 hours or more to rehydrate all the tissues in your body so flooding your system is not going to help.
How many calories should you consume during exercise?
Brian says that the average sized athlete should be consuming 120-180 calories per hour of complex carbs as a maximum. Runners however, should be consuming 20-30% less than that because of the bouncing movement during running. Your body can tolerate less. Calories should be consumed steadily especially during the first hour.
Avoiding the Dead Legs feel
If your event goes beyond 2-3 hours, you should be adding protein into the mix. The reason you want to do this is because after 70-80 minutes your body starts to burn protein which is stored in our lean muscles. We need these muscles to propel us forward and the last thing you want is to cannibalise them. When your body starts doing this, you experience a dead legs feel.
“After 70-80 minutes of exercise your body starts to burn protein. This causes that heavy legs feeling”
The overriding them in Brian’s talk was to change the paradigm in your mind. In order to switch your thinking from how much do I need to how little can I consume without sacrificing your performance, you need to practice your nutrition during training so you can find your lowest point.
Complex Carbs vs. Simple Sugars
Always read the labels of the products you choose. If any end in ‘ose’ it’s another word for sugar. Most sports nutrition products will contain some form of sugar, salt and citric acids. The danger of consuming these types of products is that you are setting yourself up for “flash and crash” energy and difficult digestion which cause G.I. Issues.
Complex carbs on the other hand, will give you smooth sustained energy and easy digestion. Hammer’s products make use of Maltodextrin. (Maltodextrin is made from cooking down rice, corn, or potato starch, and then is broken down further with acid and/or enzymes.)
Brian warns against mixing the two – which is another thing I have definitely done.
Using Sugar as fuel
Brian is against high sugar diets and using sugar as fuel. “We don’t get a pass on sugar just because we are exercising. The logic that it is bad for you on daily basis but good during exercise doesn’t make sense.”
My favourite line of the night was, “Let’s not use our sugar coins on sport nutrition, save it for sugar in your coffee or a dessert once in a while.” He had me with dessert.
“The logic that sugar is bad for you on daily basis but good during exercise doesn’t make sense”
Using water as fuel
Just drinking water is not a good idea either, because after 60 minutes you’ll lose energy
The purpose of adding electrolytes is to achieve smooth uninterrupted performance with no cramping. Your body needs a full spectrum of electrolytes to avoid loss of nerve function. The full spectrum isn’t just sodium and potassium (which is what most sports nutrition products will contain).
Brian says salt is not the answer and sodium loading doesn’t work. You need to consume 2000 – 2500mg a day for optimum athletic performance.
Brian said that there is no such thing as a salty sweater, that person is eating a high sodium diet. When you finish an event with salt stains on your body, it’s from sodium overload. Sodium is something your body does not store and your sweat rate increases when you are overloaded.
How much electrolytes during exercise?
The higher your sodium diet, the higher the replacement of electrolytes you will need.
Brian recommends 100-600mg sodium chloride per hour for the regular athlete in normal temperature conditions.
Hammer Nutrition have a product called Endurolytes which contain a balanced full spectrum of electrolytes (sodium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium and manganese). Brian recommends 1 Endurolyte capsule (or a 1/2 Endurolyte fizz tablet) per 23kg of body weight per hour.
For people who consume a high sodium diet, are prone to cramping or dealing with hot weather, he recommends 1-2 Endurolytes Extreme per hour.
Pre exercise fuelling
Brian warns against eating within a 3 hour time frame before your race.
“When we have lots of food in the stomach, we don’t have blood available for working muscles. The body can’t digest food and work muscles at same time –
especially high fibre meals.”
Metabolically your body insulin, blood sugar and hormone levels are elevated which means you can’t burn fat. There are 200-400 000 calories of fatty acids available in body for burning but you need to get to it. This rings true for your daily workout routine too.
Most people want to burn fat every time they go for a run, get on a bike or head to the gym (myself included!). Avoiding calories in the 3 hours before (including coffee, sports drinks etc.) will aid in being able to do this.
Brian also says once you start your race; don’t wait 20-30 minutes to start your fuelling. Start at the beginning.
Post exercise recovery
Brian says post exercise nutrition needs to be taken seriously. The magic 3 hour window? The window gets narrower the longer you wait.
10-15 minutes after is ideal. 30-60 minutes after means you can get back to capacity within 9 hours, helping you minimise soreness and prepare for your next workout. If you wait longer than an hour, it will affect your ability to train the next day.
If you can’t time your workouts so you go straight into a meal after, try recovery drinks which contain a mix of carbohydrates and protein.
What should you consume?
The 3:1 “magic ratio” – 30-60g of complex carbs and 10-20g of protein.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Sports Nutrition
This might all sound like a lot but when you break it down, it should be very simple. What I took out of his talk was;
- Work on being hydrated every day
- Practise how little sports nutrition products you can consume while racing without sacrificing performance
- Sugar as fuel is bad for you – it will cause spikes and dips in energy levels. Rather choose complex carbs which will give you sustained energy.
- Don’t consume any calories within the 3 hour time frame before a race or training session.
- Fuel within 1 hour after exercise with protein and carbohydrates.
Feige is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to code things, design things, and all things beauty.