So, this week I met with my new coach, a Mr. Mike Sarnecki. He’s going to see me through the following months, as I get ready for my second race season. Though I haven’t seen my new training schedule yet, I’m guessing my volumes are about to increase here right away. I have some big goals this year though so I’m ready to put in some solid time. In prep for this, I’m going to need to be a bit more diligent about my diet – specifically, my caloric intake. I’m happy to report, I’ve dumped all the weight I gained over the Christmas Holidays (some 9 lbs) and I’m back to a reasonable fighting weight. This is good news but, I’ll need to be sure I’m fueling my body properly moving forward, or risk dropping more weight, which I don’t want to do. More than that though, this year I want to make sure I’m fueling my body with the ‘right’ stuff, so as part of that, I started to dig into the Fat vs. Carbs debate.

Endurance athletes tend to lean toward carbs when it comes to fuel before a big race, hence the cliché, ‘Carb up!’ I’ve done this, eating more breads and cereals in the days leading into a race, and then gorging on a mounding plate of steamy pasta and tomato meat sauce the night before. I’m hungry just thinking about that actually. But, fat as a fuel source, at 9 calories/gram is actually by far the true powerhouse!

The body accesses carbs in two ways. One way is by digesting what foods you have in your stomach. So, in this case, your body is relying on that pre-race bowl of oatmeal. The other way your body accesses carbs is to dip into the body’s glycogen stores in both muscle tissue and the liver. This, like the bowl of oatmeal, offers a limited amount of energy, typically measured up to 90mins. After more than 90mins of intense exercise, you’ll need to get more carbs into you, or bonk. Now, consider fat. I know we have a predisposition to want to avoid fat in our diets, but adipose tissue (stored fat) as a fuel source can sustain exercise up to 120 hours. Hard to believe, I know!

So, based on that info, is it safe to say fat is the superior fuel for me as a rider? Not quite. The optimal fuel is task-specific. Although fat provides more bang for the buck calorie/energy-wise, it is harder/slower for the body to digest, and access, while carbs are more readily available when you put your body to work. Carbs are therefor better for the short and more high intensity work, while fat is better used for long sustained activities. Going to race the Perogy XC this spring, go ahead and carb up. If you’re taking on the Bow 80, plan to get some fat into you. You’re gunna need it!

Some foods you’ll want to pick up if you’re looking for ‘healthy’ unsaturated fats would be:

  • Almonds
  • Olive oil
  • Flax seed
  • Avocados

But, you might not want to totally discount ‘some’ saturated fat sources like:

  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Yogurt

In all reality, from what I understand, the body is burning both at the same time, just to varying degrees. In a short, high intensity race of 90mins or less, you’re going to be burning ‘primarily’ glycogen stores, but after that you’ll shift to your fat stores as you power on for a few more hours.

The best advice I can give, and I’ll be taking it myself, is to make notes on what you’re eating. Keep a diary and then pay attention to how you feel and perform during your training between now and spring. That way, you’ll have a good sense of what agrees with you, and what doesn’t.