Food is Fuel

Food is fuel.

As an athlete, you know that.

You consume three forms of potential fuel or macronutrients/food – carbohydrates, fat and protein. Depending on how hard you work (the intensity) and how long you go (the duration) during exercise determines what proportion and when your body uses them.

Glucose (sugar) is the principle energy source for your body. Blood glucose can be used immediately or stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. During exercise, muscle glycogen is converted back into glucose to be used as fuel for your working muscles. As your muscles are converting their glycogen into usable glucose, your liver is converting its glycogen back into glucose as well. The liver’s glucose is released directly into the bloodstream to maintain your blood glucose level. Your working muscles “pick up” this blood glucose and use it in addition to the glucose from their own private stores.  The primary source of energy for your brain is from that same blood glucose. So keeping your body sufficiently fueled during exercise is extremely important.

Your body is constantly using and replenishing its glycogen stores. Whether you eat a diet high in carbohydrates or not, influences the size of your glycogen stores. This is why you hear athletes say they need to “top off” their glycogen stores. The more you have to tap into or convert, the longer you can go…in theory anyway. There are other contributing factors as to how long you can exercise. The fact that your body can only store approximately 1800-2000 calories or enough fuel for 90-120 minutes of continuous vigorous exercise is one of them. It takes approximately 20 hours for your body to restore it’s depleted glycogen stores. So your rest days are doubly important. Your body needs rest to repair it’s muscles for performance gains and to restore
its glycogen stores. Imagine it this way: if you do not allow sufficient rest, it’s like going into a race without a full tank of gas. You would never set off on a road trip without a full tank. If you did, you’d have to stop sooner than the rest of the field to refuel, right? Seems silly when you can start off full!

Ok, so we’ve talked about how your body uses carbohydrates as fuel during exercise. Now let’s talk about another source of fuel-fats. Stored fats are broken down into fatty acids that are transported in your blood to working muscles. This process is considerably slower than the conversion of carbohydrates for fuel. In addition, fats require oxygen to be broken down. Fats cannot be converted and mobilized quick enough to meet the energy demands of sprinters or athletes performing hill repeats or interval sessions. In these shorter more intense bouts of exercise, carbohydrates are the only form of fuel that can be used to generate ATP anaerobically. Think of ATP molecules as chemical energy.

In comparison, during moderate to intense exercise lasting 4-6 hours, fat contributes up to 70% of your body’s energy needs. Highly trained endurance athletes use more fat for energy while sparing their muscle glycogen stores compared to less fit athletes at the same level of exercise. However, as you pick up the pace, your body shifts from using fats and carbohydrates as fuel to burning more muscle glycogen. Your muscles and brain need a steady supply of glucose to keep working. Remember this : Fats burn in a
carbohydrate flame. Sport drinks containing carbohydrates provide working muscles with a readily available source of glucose. Sport drink carbohydrates enter the blood stream for immediate use. If you do not have enough carbohydrates to be broken down as glucose for muscle and liver demands, your body will shut down. “Hitting the wall’ essentially means there is no more glucose available to your working muscles and “bonking” is used to describe the insufficient blood glucose (or low blood sugar) needed for proper brain function.

Lastly, protein may only contribute up to 15% of your energy needs when your glycogen stores run low. Protein is necessary to repair exercise induced muscle damage and to replace amino acids lost during prolonged exercise, but it is not an immediate source of fuel for exercise. It can be converted into glucose and used as fuel during prolonged bouts of exercise. It may even delay fatigue and enhance mental strength, but it is not your body’s first choice for fuel.

In the end, the most influential factor in your performance (injury and ability aside) is your body’s limited carbohydrate stores. Even though the leanest runner may have enough fat stored to supply up to 100,000 calories, enough for over 100 hours of marathon running, you will experience fatigue and be unable to maintain your current pace, if you deplete your muscle glycogen stores.

As an athlete, you need to educate yourself. If you physically train your body for peak performance, you need to fuel your body for peak performance. Your body is a perfectly engineered machine…a divine creation. Your bodys energy systems work in perfect harmony, switching between one source of fuel to the other, depending on what you ask it to do. Your job is to supply your body with adequate fuel to keep that harmony. Practice with different fuels to find the perfect cocktail for race day. Food is as important
a piece of your athletic puzzle as your training. Train smart. Fuel smart.

Childhood Obesity-No More Excuses

Childhood Obesity – No more excuses

Whether you are a parent, a teacher or simply a neighbor to young children, we as a society need to end childhood obesity. No more excuses. No more wasted time. We need to act now. Knowledge is our greatest asset in this fight against childhood obesity. As adults, we are responsible for providing a healthy future for our youth. It is our duty to make good choices on their behalf and to assist them in building the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Let’s start by taking a look at the facts. Then we’ll look at ways to keep our youth moving. Knowledge is power.

Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, water, muscle, bone or any combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat and childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

The hard facts are disturbing, but shouldn’t come as a surprise when you look around your community. Childhood obesity is a serious concern to our future as a nation. Children who are obese face immediate health risks that can cause long term health effects. So even if you are not directly affected by this concern, you should be. The cost for treatment of these conditions may bankrupt our health care system.

Obese children are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease. 70% of obese youth age 5-17 had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease. These same children are more likely to have pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes. In addition, obese youth are at a greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea and social and psychological
problems such as stigmatization and poor self esteem. Children who are obese are also more likely to be obese adults and therefore more at risk for health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer.

As a concerned parent or community member we can prevent most of these conditions by creating healthy lifestyle habits. Genetics play a role in some cases, but getting up and getting out is our best prevention. Ask yourself, when was the last time my child or neighborhood kid played outside till dusk? It rarely happens anymore. Gone are the days of running around, catching fireflies, and adventuring till dark. Safety seems to be a greater concern more than it was 30 years ago, but handheld electronics, computers and TV gaming are equally to blame for sedentary children.

Children need to be physically active. Regular physical exercise helps build and maintain healthy bones and muscles. It also helps prevent the health concerns mentioned earlier. Physical activity also reduces the feelings of depression and anxiety. Creating a more focused mind and promoting a sense of psychological well being.

It’s simple. A healthy lifestyle is a choice. You would not allow your child, niece/nephew or neighbor child to cross the street if a car was approaching. Nor would you choose to send that same child to school with a temperature. Choose to be healthy. Choose to live a long, prosperous life. It’s contagious and it starts now.

Get outside and get moving. Grab the bikes, go for a hike, skip to the lou my darling…just get moving. Parents, neighbors, aunts and uncles – we need to tip the “caloric scale” in the opposite direction. Since children rely on our knowledge, we need to take back control. We need to increase their calories expended versus their calories consumed. To do that, we need to involve them in more physical activities. It is an easy concept, but needs to be made fun for children to stay engaged. Below are a few examples of some simple activities with a fun twist:

(1)    Make it an adventure. Set the alarm. Rise before dawn and drive to a hiking trail. Strap on the headlamps and listen to the sounds of nature. If that’s too adventurous for your youth, then…

(2)    Simply hike after dawn and make a scavenger hunt list. Kids love to hunt for and find things. Need more incentive, give a token prize for the winning child or team.

(3)    Ride the bikes to a local park for
some free play time. Invite some playmates to meet you.

(4)    Create a kids “boot camp” in your backyard. Make an obstacle course with stuff from around the house. Kids love to crawl and tunnel through things and jump and climb on obstacles. Keep it fun and safe.

(5)    Go for a run on the hard sand at the beach. Keep an eye out for dolphins or whales. Play “I spy” for other ocean animals, birds, seashells or silly sunbathers.

(6)     Keep it simple. Jump rope and play the name game or a good old fashioned game of freeze tag. Kids love to run.



For more information and ideas to get moving, please visit

For information on creating and maintaining a healthy diet, please visit




Statistics provided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-NPAO-Obesity Facts

Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?

I recently read this post in the NY Times while researching information on the “preventative use” of NSAIDs. Many of the athletes I train with pop 2-3 pain killers prior to a workout to prevent the onset of pain or possible inflammmation due to their sport’s activity. This article is a great summation of when NSAIDs are appropriate and when they are not…and why. Please take a moment to read, then practice your new knowledge. Train smart.

Phys Ed: Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise? –