The time was 6:00pm on October 1st 2016…
Incredibly sore but equally successful I had managed to complete 24 hours of non-stop sport around the campus of Loughborough University. Was it hard? Yes. Brutal. Would I do it again? You know it! I’m already planning the next one! The reason being if you understand some basic nutritional principles, fueling 24 hours of sport becomes entirely possible (for anyone and everyone). Also, dare I say it, it even becomes enjoyable. Since eating 20,000+ calories in 24 hours completely guilt free was not a bad way to spend a Saturday for someone like me who loves their food.
But before I elaborate on the details of my Man Vs Food Sports Challenge, let me begin by describing the carbohydrate:fat dual energy approach to training and competition that has served me so well…
#1. Carb-Based: Endurance
If you ask most traditional sports nutritionists they will tell you carbohydrates are our body’s primary fuel source. Put incredibly simply, what this means is most endurance events should be fueled with high-carb foods like rice, bread, fruits and vegetables which are stored as muscle glycogen and used to fuel our runs, swims and cycles. Why? Since research published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition studied the the effect carbohydrate intake has on people’s 30km running time. Scientists monitored performance when subjects consumed a high-carbohydrate sporks drink before racing compared to when they just drank tap water.
What did they find?
In summary, “Running speed was maintained throughout the race in the high-carbohydrate trial, whereas a decrease in the running speed occurred after 25km in the water trial.” Essentially what this means is around the 25km mark they were running low on muscle glycogen and therefore running out of speed, strength and stamina. This led scientists to conclude, “This study shows that performance time for a 30-km road race is improved after ingesting a carbohydrate drink.”
Now one “pet hate” of mine is quite often studies don’t consider the body and diet in it’s entirety. There was no mention of protein and fats (macro-nutrients), vitamins, minerals and enzymes (micro-nutrients) or even hydration. But as a basic study I think this does a good job of helping people to understand with limited muscle glycogen, it’s likely (again depending on your biological individuality) you will fatigue earlier.
#2. Carb-Based: Strength
Of course the above applies to a 30km run, but what’s important to note is the same applies for strength-based sports too (as I discovered eating a carb-rich protein flapjack during my Olympic Lifts). This is also based on research from the University of Queensland whose research (entitled, “Effects of Carbohydrate Restriction on Strength Performance”) tested a group of athletes performance in the squat rack after restricting their carbohydrates for 2 days compared to when they were fully “carb’d up”.
What was uncovered? Basically exactly the same as the 30km run… a reduction in performance. They concluded, “The carbohydrate restriction program caused a significant reduction in the number of squat repetitions performed.”
#3. Fat: For Dual Fuel
So you might be thinking if you have a gym bag full of porridge oats, 24 hours of sport is possible. Well not so fast. Since researchers from the Centre for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado claim, “Glycogen (carbohydrate) storage capacity is approximately 15 g/kg body weight.” To use another sporting example, this means a marathon runner who weighs 67kg would only be able to store 1,005 grams of carbs (at the most). What this means is they would “run through” that amount during a fast-paced 90 minute session.
Which is exactly why research published by Nutrition Focus New Zealand Limited offers an alternative point of view and instead teaches us to use the power of dietary fat for those longer endurance-based events.
The study begins by saying, “The number of grueling events that challenge the limits of human endurance is increasing. Such events are also challenging the limits of current dietary recommendations (solely relying on carbohydrates).” They add, although many have favored carb-loading before training or competing for years, “There are some situations for which alternative dietary options (adding fat to the diet) are beneficial.” Some of these “situations” could come in the form of a 8 hour trek, an Iron Man or (in my case) fueling 24 hours of sport.
All because whilst carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, fat provides a whopping 9 calories per gram! What’s more special fatty acids like MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) found in coconut oil are incredibly efficient as a source of energy and are processed very similar to carbohydrates. Which is exactly why my 24 hours of sport was fueled with MCT Powder, Peanut Butter Luxe (toffee crunch for those wondering since it’s hands down my favorite flavor), Coconut Oil and Rawtella.