Avoiding the Dreaded Wall

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 by Coach Denise

I often tell athletes that my job would be easy if the same nutrition plan worked for everyone. Unfortunately, nutrition is unique to the individual, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another.

Everyone has about 2000 calories of stored glycogen in their muscles. How quickly you burn through that glycogen is based on the intensity of the exercise that you are doing and how metabolically efficient you are. At lower intensities, you burn through your glycogen stores slower than you do at higher intensities. Some people have trained their bodies to primarily use fat for fuel. Regardless of how quickly you burn through your glycogen, you will need to replace it at some point if you are exercising for longer than 2 hours.

If you don’t replenish your glycogen stores and use them all up during exercise, you experience what athletes call “bonking”. Symptoms of bonking include fatigue, dizziness and the lack of power. Once you “bonk” you don’t feel like continuing exercising. Once you reach this point, it takes a longer time to replenish your glycogen stores, so you want to avoid getting to this point which is also referred to as “hitting the wall”.

The best thing to do is to see how much and what nutrition works best by testing in training. Try starting with a smaller amount. You can always take more, but you can’t “untake” too much and taking in too much can cause GI distress. Keep track of what and when you take your nutrition and adjust as needed to build a nutrition plan that works best for you.

A couple more things to keep in mind:

  • If your intensity changes, your nutritional needs change. You may also have to adjust what you take in; one thing may be fine at a lower intensity but not sit well in your stomach at a higher intensity.
  • Temperature can also have an impact on your nutrition plan. When it is really hot, your body is busy cooling itself instead of digesting what you are putting in it. Many athletes like to rely on liquid nutrition in the heat.

Nutrition isn’t a simple formula that works for everyone but with some trial and error, you can find a plan that works for you.

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