To fuel or not to fuel?


The off-season/foundation phase presents itself with a unique opportunity in your season where training volume and intensity is relatively low and thus, you don't expend a great amount of calories. This is a perfect time to break away from relying on engineered sport nutrition products to get you through your workouts and to see your daily diet as the fuel for your workouts.
In other words, sport nutrition will play a very small role in your training routine. 

However, I feel this is where many athletes eat and train with confusion.

I'm sure you have been told that you don't need to eat before a workout in the off-season/foundation phase or you should avoid all sport nutrition during workouts, to burn more fat, in the off-season/foundation phase.

While there's scientific research to support that working out fasted has an extra metabolic response where you metabolize more fat, improve insulin sensitivity and increase lean muscle mass, it's important to remember that scientific research is great for providing results but not every research study may apply to you.

As an athlete, your best performance enhancement is having consistently great workouts where the body is not limited in energy but also being able to maintain a healthy diet, all day, every day.

There are several types of athletes who I feel will receive no benefit from fasted workouts as they can actually cause a cascade of negative health and performance issues.

Do you/Are you....
-Experience hypoglycemia during a workout
-Overcoming an eating disorder
-Struggling with disordered eating
-Struggling with body image issues
-Overeat later in the day

-Experience great carb cravings later in the day
-Fast for reward food/overindulging after a workout
-Have never trained the gut to tolerate food before the workout
-A new athlete who is trying to develop consistent training and healthy eating patterns
-Struggle to get through workout without feeling lightheaded/dizzy/moody/low energy
-Experience a blackout/foggy sensation during workouts
-Get sick easily (weak immune system) or get injured easily (fragile body)
-Experience great hunger during a workout
-Diabetic athlete
-Health issues (organs, bones, heart, brain, etc.)
-You've tried it before and you feel you perform better and make better food choices when you aren't fasted

Sadly, many athletes in the above category are brainwashed to believe that they must perform fasted workouts to become more fat adapted and thus all symptoms will improve, paces will drop, heart rate will be more controlled and fat will melt off the body. And, if athletes are still feeling issues by performing a workout fasted, they aren't doing it right, they need to give it more time or it's proof that they are a horrible fat burner.

So what do you do if you are one of the above types of athletes I listed and you need to eat before a workout and maybe even take in a little extra energy during your workout?

Will it ruin all of your hopes and dreams for your 2017 season if you chew on a few energy chews during a run or sip on a 100 calorie sport drink during a 90 minute bike ride?

Believe it or not but Karel and I eat before all of our workouts, 365 days a year.
We also continue to use engineered sport nutrition products for our longer (60+ min) workouts (or intense short workouts), throughout our entire season. 

Does this make us unhealthy?
Are we inefficient at burning fat?
Are we overlooking the best way to take our performance to that next level?

Ironically, we don't bonk in workouts or in races, we don't experience GI issues in training or on race day, we never get sick, we don't overeat, we have great consistency in our diet, we have never had a stress fracture and we have great consistency in our training.
I'd say we are doing something right and that's because we have figured out what works best for us. We are one of those athletes in my above list, in that we have better workouts when we eat before our workouts.

I'm not anti-fasted workouts but I believe that it's not for every athlete and certainly, it's most appropriate to apply in the off-season/foundation phase for only the easy workouts.

NEVER take in calories before or during a workout less than 90 minutes!!!!
I often shake my head when I read statements like this, from coaches and nutrition experts to never ever take in calories before or during workouts less than 90 minutes - "you simply don't need them", says the expert. 

You certainly do not need the same calorie intake before and during your workouts in the foundation phase/off-season as you would peak season (as that is the basis of periodizing your sport nutrition) but statements like this confuse athletes because there could be times during your off-season when it would be of value to take in calories during the workout AND you could be an athlete where fasted workouts will be of no benefit to your body right now in your development.

I understand that the topic is confusing, especially if you are looking to the off-season to change your body composition or to break yourself from a long season of sugary sweet sport nutrition concoctions and there's so much talk on metabolic efficiency.

But you are in control of your body. I say this with sincerity because whatever fuel strategy you choose in the foundation phase, it should help you move closer to your performance goals. And that means training consistently and eating well, on a daily basis.
Never should you "not fuel" for the sake of losing weight or because someone told you not to fuel. If you are an athlete and you want to get the most out of your body, even in the early phase of training, consider using food to help you have great workouts and to encourage healthy eating throughout the day.

Although this blog post started as an off-season topic, I find this "fuel smart" topic more relevant for the Foundation phase or your "post season/first phase" of training as this is often the time of training when you are easing back into structured training, your workouts are specific, you can start training your gut to tolerate food before and during workouts, you need to stay healthy to stay consistent and your focus is on getting stronger and fine-tuning the basics before you next more intense phase of training. 


picture source
The big takeaway from this blog is to not let scientific research, a nutrition expert or an article tell you what you should or shouldn't do as it relates to nourishing or fueling your body.
While there are many sport nutrition recommendations available, it is important that you listen to your body and understand your own body signals, to figure out what works best for you.
Also, be mindful that a past version of you may be different than a new version of you. So if you are hanging on to old nutrition strategies, you may need a nutrition professional to help you figure out your new/different metabolic needs.

Even if someone tells you that you don't need to fuel before and during a workout, it's OK if you decide to go against the crowd and do what works best for you.
As an athlete, you need to make choices that keep you healthy and you move you closer to your health and performance goals.
If you are still confused on fueling in the foundation phase/off-season, let's work together.
By reviewing your current training and eating strategies, we can quickly figure out which workouts require fuel during and how much to eat before and after workouts.

Trimarni Nutrition Consult