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  • Edgar S.

Gut training and Metabolic eficiency

Training your gut to consume more calories can enhance your performance in endurance sports. But some scenarios must be considered and well developed.

Certainly you've heard about training the gut.

Stuck in a performance rut? You might blame your training or consider adding more strength.

But there's a hidden key to progress: your gut!

Unlock your full potential by fueling your gut! Many endurance athletes unknowingly sabotage their race-day performance by under fueling. By strategically increasing your calorie intake during the event, you can sustain your energy and power through to the finish line strong. But there's a catch: your gut needs time to adapt to handling this extra fuel. Otherwise, gastrointestinal woes could derail your entire race.

During prolonged, "steady state" exercise, the body predominantly utilizes fatty acids via the oxidative phosphorylation pathway for energy production. Each kilogram of stored fat holds approximately 7,700 kcal, providing a significant energy reserve even for elite athletes with low body fat percentages like 8% in professional cyclists.

However, when the pace quickens, the fuel source shifts. During high-intensity exercise, your muscles crave rapid energy, not the slower breakdown of fats or complex carbohydrates that require oxygen. This is where anaerobic glycolysis jumps in, converting stored carbohydrates (glycogen) into readily available energy, but without oxygen. However, there's a catch: your body only stores around 300-500 grams of glycogen, which translates to just 1,200-2,000 calories. In prolonged, intense efforts, this limited reserve can quickly deplete, leaving you feeling drained.

Training Your Gut for Endurance: Unlocking More Fuel

Endurance athletes rely on constant fuelling during races, be it drinks, gels, or bars. This is where "gut training" comes in, helping you process those fuels more efficiently.

Typically, athletes burn around 60 grams of glucose per hour. But here's where things get interesting:

1. Beyond 60g: Enter the Glucose-Fructose Mix

Adding fructose to glucose might raise your "carbohydrate ceiling" from 60g/hr to 90g/hr. That's because fructose uses a different pathway in the gut, avoiding a "sugar traffic jam."

However, transitioning directly from 60g to 90g (with fructose) can be risky, leading to stomach discomfort.

2. The Power of Gut Training: Start by Practicing!

The solution? Train your gut! Just like training your muscles, your gut can adapt to handle more fuel efficiently.

Studies show that regularly consuming 60-90g/hr of carbohydrates during training can increase your tolerance to higher fuel intakes. This adaptation involves improving stomach emptying and the transporters that move sugar molecules into your cells.

Start small, gradually increase intake during workouts, and see the difference in your race-day performance!

How Long Does Gut Training Take for Endurance Athletes?

Frequency and Duration:

Many athletes wonder how often and for how long gut training is needed. Studies offer some insights:

A study tested 10-day gut training over two weeks, but this intensity may not be practical for most.

Gradual increases in carbohydrate intake during workouts (e.g., starting at 30 g/hr and increasing weekly) could be a more manageable approach.

Adaptation Speed:

The adaptations for improved carbohydrate tolerance likely occur quickly, "within a few days or a week," according to experts. So, year-round gut training isn't necessarily needed.

Periodization and Individual Needs:

Periodizing gut training, focusing on it before races with high carbohydrate demands, might be more beneficial. While some athletes can handle over 120 g/hr, exceeding 90 g/hr may not be necessary for most.

Real-World Application:

Lab results don't always translate perfectly to real-world races. External factors like heat can affect tolerance. Consider individual responses and adjust strategies accordingly.

Gut Training Protocol for Endurance Athletes: Fueling Your Way to Performance

This protocol outlines a stepwise approach to training your gut to handle increasingly higher amounts of the glucose-fructose mix during training sessions. Remember, individual responses vary, so listen to your body and adjust as needed.

Start Small:

Begin with a low dose of the glucose-fructose mix during a training session. Aim for around 30 grams per hour.

Monitor your body's response for any discomfort or issues.

Gradual Increase:

If everything feels good, gradually increase the intake by 10 grams per hour each subsequent week.

Maintain consistency by consuming the mix throughout each training session.

Stay Hydrated:

Carbohydrates attract water into your gut, so ensure adequate fluid intake to avoid dehydration.

Listen and Adapt:

If you experience discomfort, reduce the intake or adjust the ratio of glucose to fructose.

Remember, individual tolerance varies. This is a journey to find your optimal fueling strategy.

Be Patient:

Adapting your gut takes time. Be patient with the process and enjoy the performance benefits as your fueling strategy evolves.

Additional Tips:

Experiment with different ratios of glucose to fructose to find the best mix for your body.

Practice your gut training protocol during long training sessions to mimic race conditions.

By following these steps and paying attention to your body's responses, you can effectively train your gut for improved performance and fuel your way to success in your next endurance event.

Specificity in Cycling: Considerations for Ultradistance

I've covered the importance of optimising metabolism for cycling so far, but does this concept apply universally? In the context of ultradistance, things become more complex, requiring a specific analysis.

Metabolic Challenges in Ultradistance:

Extreme Duration: Ultradistance cyclists face gruelling challenges, requiring an efficient metabolism to sustain the effort for long hours.

Substrate Management: The ability to utilise different energy sources (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) effectively becomes crucial for success.

Individual Factors: Each athlete has unique characteristics that influence metabolism, requiring individualised strategies.

Metabolic Optimisation for Ultradistance:

Physiological Training: Training aimed at aerobic endurance and the utilisation of different substrates is essential.

Dietary Strategies: Specific nutritional approaches, such as macronutrient periodisation and adaptive ketosis, can be advantageous.

Personalised Approach: Considering the athlete's individual characteristics, such as genetics, training history and dietary preferences, is fundamental to success.

Developing an efficient metabolism is crucial for success in cycling, especially in ultra-distance. Through an appropriate physiological training programme, personalised dietary strategies and attention to the individuality of the athlete, it is possible to optimise performance and achieve goals.

These issues can never be understood in such a linear way. The process must be adaptive, methodical and adjusted to the athlete and the context of the sport.

It's part of the process...

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