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Granfondo? Fill your energy tanks and reduce muscle fatigue

Edited by Elena Casiraghi, PhD, Specialist in Nutrition and Integration - Enervit Team
When it comes to sports and endurance nutrition, muscle fatigue and the so-called carbo load are the thoughts that immediately come to mind. Two things that seem so distant but are actually linked to each other. There is no doubt that carbohydrates can reduce fatigue, especially muscle fatigue. But what is useful to eat before a long race? And, above all, how much can you have to eat and drink? These questions are crucial for every athlete preparing for an endurance competition like the granfondo, including the Maratona Dles Dolomites, long, high-intensity and demanding races. So if you want to know how to best prepare yourself and which tips to adopt in the race, keep reading.

The load of carbohydrates. From a classic to a moderate and practical protocol

These advantages were first recognised by Swedish scholars in 1960, defining the protocol of "glycogen supercompensation", a strategy useful to saturate the reserves of glycogen of muscles. The protocol was immediately adopted by the greatest athletes of endurance disciplines. It did not take long, however, to show some potential disadvantages, although it came to accumulate significant concentrations of muscle glycogen. For this reason, all athletes abandoned it and adopted more reasonable and practicable guidelines. These moderate guidelines made it possible to reduce the disadvantages of the classic protocol while ensuring the same amount of glycogen as the tanks. In the original model of carbohydrate loading the amount of saturated glycogen was in fact 211 mmol/kg ww against 204 mmol/kg ww of the moderate model, considering the maximum capacity of muscle glycogen around 150-250 mmol/kg ww.
The revised model, still in use by athletes today, is divided into 3 strategies depending on the daily habits of the athletes themselves. Let's see them in detail:

  • Mixed diet with 50% carbohydrate intake;
  • • Diet "poor" (but not devoid!) of carbohydrates (25%) for 3 days, followed by 3 days of diet rich in carbohydrates (70%), similar to the previous approach;
  • • Mixed diet for 3 days (50% carbohydrate) followed by 3 days of moderate carbohydrate intake (70%).

Carbo load in practice: how to feed yourself in the 3 days before a long race

Knowing the strategies on how to feed yourself in the three days before a long race, is a great first step to reduce anxiety and ensure a smoother race without complications. Here are the tips:

  • Carbohydrates: 5-7 g carbohydrates/kg/day to be divided into each meal and snack (women may also take a smaller amount if they are already used to a low-carbohydrate diet)
  • Protein: maintain a protein intake of no less than 0.3 g/kg per meal
  • Attention to fibres: reduce the intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains until it is eliminated
  • Avoid fasting: consume snacks to avoid going without for food for long periods of time
  • Hydration: hydrate, considering that each g of carbohydrates binds 3 g of water (see boiled rise/pasta)
  • Cocoa: to stop the training of the days before the race and keep the muscles oxygenated

Reducing fatigue: energy but also hydration during the race

When temperatures rise, endurance performance may be affected. Even when, as in the case of granfondo or ironman, the start is in the early hours of the morning. A combination of heavy sweating and inadequate rehydration can lead to dehydration. The body can tolerate small amounts of dehydration, i.e. 1-2% of body weight, without any deterioration in performance. High levels of dehydration, equal to or greater than 3%, can compromise not only sports performance but also health. Let's find out more and in particular learn about strategies to treat hydration.

How much worse is the performance when the hydration decreases

When the body has lost 2% of its body weight in water, the perception of fatigue increases and performance deteriorates by 10%. If the athlete however, is not acclimatised to the temperature at which he or she competes or trains, the same deterioration is achieved with the mere reduction of 1%. Attention: losing more than 3% water, the body temperature begins to rise, with a danger of heat stroke.

Sweating counts, that's why

Why is sweating important? Sweat is essential. Muscle work, in fact, increases metabolic heat, which, like in a car, must be dissipated if you want to avoid melting the engine. The mechanism of sweating, therefore, allows you to promote the decrease in body temperature. But be careful, the sweat that cools the body is the one that evaporates: every gram of sweat that is dissipated subtracts 0.6 kcal from the body.
On the contrary, sweat that soaks clothes or falls to the ground in drops, removes water and minerals from the body, but is not useful to eliminate heat. There's more. The higher the humidity, the lower the percentage of sweat that evaporates. That's why competing or training in wet environments increases fatigue and at the same intensity of exercise in a less humid environment could more easily put the athlete in crisis.

Strategies to lower heat and stay hydrated

It is therefore understandable how necessary it is to recover water and minerals during exercise and keep hydrated during the same. But that's not all. There are strategies to decrease body temperature and promote hydration. In hot conditions, therefore, these strategies that can help prevent excessive increase in internal body temperature can help maintain performance. Let's find out.

  • Wearing cold clothing and using splashes of water is one way to cool the moving body. Wearing fresh clothing such as bottles of cold water at the top of the neck helps regulate body temperature. Another method suggested by the studies is to cool the body from the inside using cold drinks, obviously in small doses and with care. Some experiments, in fact, propose the consumption of fluids in the form of granita before and during exercise.
  • Don't wait for thirst: hydrated parts and take water and mineral salts in small doses every 15 minutes during exercise. Thirst depends on many factors: dry mouth, psychological factors, information that reaches the hypothalamus from osmoceptors, speeders and baroreceptors. During physical activity, thirst is often not a reliable indicator of the body's real need for water. Moreover, thirst is qualitatively unspecific: it does not say what to drink.
  • The mixture that hydrates and empties the stomach: if you sweat very little (race with low temperature and low humidity), sometimes just drink water. If sweat soaks the shirt and the race lasts more than an hour, there must be minerals in the drink: sodium, chlorine, potassium and magnesium. There may be water poisoning (hyponatraemia), sometimes fatal, for the use of sodium-free drinks in long races with adverse microclimate. For this reason, potassium and magnesium supplements should be used in the post-workout period and during the duration of the exercise, mixtures containing mainly sodium and chlorine should be preferred (even if they contain potassium and magnesium in addition).
  • Allied with betaine: this substance is mainly contained in sugar beet and spinach. In endurance sports, betaine has a particular benefit: it defends the intracellular volume by protecting the enzymes of the citric acid cycle from the progressive loss of creatine molecules. In simple terms, it proves to be beneficial for reducing dehydration and hyperthermia in the case of prolonged training sessions and/or conducted in a hot, humid environment with poor ventilation. To enjoy the benefit you need 1.25 g of betaine. Hydration seems to be greater when mixed with mineral salts.
  • Menthol, a fresh support. Menthol can alleviate the discomfort associated with shortness of breath or wheezing typical of physical exertion in a hot and/or humid environment. Athletes who have tested it also report better feelings of thermal comfort and / or decreased thermal sensation. The evaluations of the perceived effort after taking menthol were also lower. The use of menthol orally was more successful in endurance sports lasting 20-70 minutes, postponing the onset of fatigue and lengthening the time of exhaustion.

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