How To Fuel for Long Distance Racing

The Beauty of Simplicity

By Justin Park-Professional Triathlete

If you are inclined to read all of the books, articles and additional forms of print media out there, you will quickly discover that the concept of endurance performance nutrition is a complex and often difficult to understand topic.

How many calories do I need per hour?

Should I consume my calories in liquid, gel or solid form? Or a combination of all three?

Am I a heavy sweater? How much water do I need to stay hydrated?

Do I need to supplement with additional electrolytes, such as sodium?

How many grams of carbohydrates do I need per hour?

Should I also consume protein during exercise?

I have a sensitive stomach, so how do I go about fueling without the added risk of gastro-intestinal distress?

Just listing these types of questions can often overwhelm athletes and leave them frustrated and confused before they even begin to determine what fueling strategy works best for them. Yet I am here to tell you that endurance performance nutrition does not have to be this complex.

In fact, it can be incredibly simple.

For those that don’t know, over the better part of the last year and a half I have suffered from an unknown medical problem that confounded my doctors for many months. Strange symptoms – such as elevated thyroid stress hormone, atrial fibrillation (and subsequent cardioversion…an electric shock I don’t wish upon anyone) and rapid but largely unexplained weight loss – left physicians wondering where to start, much less how to combat the illness. And as you can imagine, this type of problem dramatically affected my training and racing performance.

After months and months of frustration and my own recurrent emotional struggles of whether to continue my pursuit of professional triathlon, doctors finally determined the cause of my issues. Simply put, I had been suffering from an infection that severely compromised the health of my digestive system and had been doing so for several YEARS. All of those symptoms that, at first glance, appear not to have anything to do with the health (or lack thereof) of the gut were largely just long-term effects of my body slowly falling apart due to the duration of the infection.

Think of it in this way: Severe infection of the digestive system compromises the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Lack of nutrient absorption compromises the body’s ability to recover from strenuous activity (such as 25-30 hours of training per week) and maintain the overall health of all other systems of the body (cardiovascular, endocrine, nervous, etc.). Long-term inability to sustain health leads to the gradual deterioration of other parts of the body – in my case, thyroid, heart, and so on.

As my doctor aptly put it, “If you drive for years with incredibly low oil levels in your engine, eventually other parts of the engine are going to stop working.”

Tremendously thankful to finally have an answer, I nevertheless remained incredibly daunted by not only the level of destruction I had done to my body but also the amount of treatment that would be necessary to restore my overall health. After all, bringing the body back to a respectable level of health was one thing. Getting it back to the level of performance to compete with some of the best athletes on the planet was an entirely different thing.

But so began the task of ridding my body of infection and restoring me to full health. As you can imagine, much of the treatment focused on the digestive system and overall recovery of the gut – a process that was both painful and unpleasant. Yet, slowly but surely, my situation started to improve. I was able to resume some light training but not permitted to complete anything of such duration so as to require fueling for sustainability. At that point in time, trying to get my body to both exercise (regardless of intensity) and try to digest nutrition would prove a futile task.

Believe it or not, those restrictions existed as recently as early January 2012. Over the next several weeks, I was gradually able to extend the duration of my training, supplementing with nutrition only to the barest extent necessary. Finally, my health (although far from fully restored) was going to be repaired sufficiently enough for me to handle the heavier volume of a training camp in Tucson, Arizona in mid-February.

Nevertheless, my digestive system would still be severely compromised. Therefore, doctors informed me that any nutrition I utilized during exercise would have to be, in their words, “as simple as possible.” Just hearing my doctors say that – um, a simple nutrition plan? – almost made me laugh at them on the spot. Given that they controlled the dosages of my medications, however, I felt that to be a somewhat inane response. So I kept my mouth shut.

So what did I find at my training camp? Low and behold…and I can’t believe I am even saying this…performance nutrition is incredibly simple. No guesswork, no over-thinking and no problems. All I needed was the First Endurance line of nutrition.

Keep in mind, with the slow return of my gut health, I was only in the early stages of again starting to absorb calories and nutrients in my training. And as a larger triathlete (6ft 3in and 170lbs) with the added difficulty of having a high metabolism, the idea of dialing in my nutrition (especially at this point in time) had seemed somewhat of a fleeting concept.

But perhaps the simplicity of it all is best revealed through one sample day of volume during the camp: a brutal 6-hour 30-minute training day consisting of a 5-hour 15-minute bike, a 30-minute transition run off the bike, and a 45-minute light aerobic swim to finish off the day.

Believe it or not, I completed the entire day of training using only First Endurance’s EFS Electrolyte Drink (fruit punch flavor) and EFS Liquid Shot (vanilla flavor). I had a solid and substantial breakfast in the morning before beginning the day’s training and then fueled my way through all of the workouts with only those two products. No over-thinking, no additional supplementation of electrolytes, and no worries. To top it off, I felt almost as good at the end of the day as I did before the workouts even started.

Incredibly simple nutrition, and incredibly effective. With my calorie needs and a truly compromised digestive system, you would never think it could be that easy. But it is.

Now, imagine how easy fueling can be for an athlete with a normal digestive system.

Fueling With First Endurance

By Robert Kunz, First Endurance VP Science & Technology

Though EFS drinks and Liquid Shot are clearly designed as the ultimate fuel formula for long and short distance racing, its effectiveness is due to its simplicity.  This includes three sources of fast carbohydrates, a blend of ALL five electrolytes and fortified with an effective amino acid blend.   Everything in EFS is designed for fast absorption, which means its easy on the stomach and highly effective for long distance racing.   To clearly understand why long distance racing requires FAST carbohydrates instead of slow burning carbohydrates read this.

2 replies
  1. Mark F
    Mark F says:

    Hey Justin, I would like to hear more about your gut infection.  You did not state what it was, how it was discovered, what treatment (antibiotic?) you had for it, and whether treating it solved your atrial fibrillation, or if you still get it.  There are many endurance athletes, mostly men, who develop atrial fibrillation, and some who even wonder if their gut may have something to do with it.  I am one of those athletes, so I am hoping you can fill in the details of the health condition that you describe that is at the base of your medical problems, and what doctors advised you to do in more concise terms.  
     
    Thanks
    Mark F

    Reply
  2. jpark1
    jpark1 says:

    Hi Mark,
     
    Sorry for the delay in response, but thank you for the questions. I chose to limit my discussion of the illness itself in this particular blog post simply because it could have usurped the entire point of the story — namely, the simplicity and effectiveness of fueling with EFS. That being said, I will be happy to give you more detail on the illness, though I’ll try to keep it as concise as possible. Given all of the troubles it has caused me over the past two years, I could easily spend hours (and thousands of words) ranting about it.
     
    In general, the gut infection doesn’t have a specific name, so to speak, but is simply determined by the type of bacteria that spreads and proliferates. Interestingly enough, I learned that these infections are surprisingly common – at least in the medical sense – and often can be handled by a healthy immune system without treatment. Most particularly virulent or fatal cases involve individuals with compromised immune systems – for example, the elderly (of those who die from gut infections, 83% are over the age of 65) or immuno-compromised patients, such as AIDS patients. However, when you are an avid endurance athlete who trains 20-40 hours per week and often places incredible stress on the body that regularly compromises immune system function, fighting off these infections can be particularly difficult. Especially given the fact that, as an active individual, you can generally be in pretty good health and not notice that things are going wrong until the infection has taken a stronghold (for example, until you begin to suffer from hypothyroidism and atrial fibrillation, as in my case).
     
    It is difficult to pinpoint when and where my illness began, but most cases of gut infection develop when an individual is on a consistent treatment of antibiotics. The antibiotics essentially kill everything in your body – good and bad – and one of the things that suffers in particular is the healthy flora of the gut, which is responsible for keeping bacteria and other potential infection troubles in check. In my case, I used to be a corporate attorney and spent several months in Mexico working on a mergers & acquisitions deal. When I got home, I was very sick with some sort of bug that could only be eliminated with a very prolonged dose of antibiotics – much longer than you would generally want to stay on such a drug. As I mentioned, many people recover on their own once they stop taking antibiotics, but some become severely ill and require additional treatment. At that time, I was in the process of training very hard, working very hard as an attorney, and trying to set my life up correctly so that I could pursue triathlon full time – all of which contributed to me not being able to fight the infection effectively.
     
    Once I transitioned to a full-time professional triathlete (about 3.5 years ago), I still had no idea that I was suffering from infection. But very quickly my training started becoming very hit or miss, largely without explanation. And each year ultimately ended prematurely due to incredible fatigue, illness, general malaise, etc. I attributed to “learning the ropes” of the job and overtraining. But with each passing year, the need to cut my season short came more quickly – ultimately culminating in last year, where my season was brought to a close after only the first race.
     
    By that point in time, I was suffering regularly from atrial fibrillation and my lab results had already revealed hypothyroidism. Only the treatment for the true problem – my infection – was long delayed since I (along with my docs) were treating the a-fib and hypothyroidism as the principal issues, rather than side effects to a larger problem. It wasn’t until we enlisted the help of a doctor far removed from our earlier attempts at discovery that the pieces were put together.
     
    Since then, I have been undergoing progressive treatments to rid my body of the infection and restore my overall health (particuarly in the gut). This has been a very drawn-out process due to the fact that treatment (largely, aggressive antibiotics) can actually cause additional problems rather than solutions. So it’s been a situation where I go on meds for several weeks, then begin restorative treatments (priobiotics, etc.) and continue that routine.
     
    For the most part, my atrial fibrillation has subsided. I still have instances of a-fib every couple of months, but the doctors insist that it is merely part of the recovery process (prior to treatment, I suffered from a-fib every couple of days). Interestingly enough, since beginning the infection treatment, I went off my thyroid medication but my thyroid stress hormone levels have continued to fall to the point that they were close to normal at last check.
     
    What have doctors asked me to do? Simply put, be patient. There are a lot of ups and downs in the healing process and not much can be done except waiting for your body to undergo it’s natural recovery while sticking to the “off and on” treatment and restorative phases. According to my docs, because I suffered from the infection for several years, it is going to take at least a year or more to fully heal. Adopting a very clean diet (high in natural, whole foods and very low in sugar outisde of training nutrition) can greatly aid in the process. But other than that, I just have to be patient…something I’m not very good at.
     
    Sorry for the long-winded response, but it is tough to explain without giving clear detail. I hope this helps, and if you have any other questions, please let me know.
     
    Thanks,
    Justin

    Reply

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