As an athlete and coach, one of the things I think is important is constant learning. With so many new concepts being shared, I’m admittedly critical when I hear new nutrition strategies. There are times when things make sense in theory, but in practice it doesn’t work for me. During my USA Triathlon certification last year, Bob Seebohar spoke on the concept of Metabolic Efficiency and it was one of those times where it did make sense, but I still had to try it for myself.
Today I’d like to share an overview of what I learned about Metabolic Efficiency and the changes I’ve made to my running (biking, and swimming) nutrition based on these concepts.
Just a quick reminder that I am NOT a nutritionist – this is what I learned what works for me. It may or may not work for you. This is intended as my opinion based on my experience, so you can make your own decision.
The basic concept behind metabolic efficiency is to control your blood sugar to burn more fat. High blood sugar equates to high insulin, which impedes your body’s ability to oxidize fat. So the goal is to have an even distribution of blood sugar throughout the day.
Each meal should be about half (or more) fruits & veggies, then lean protein and healthy fats, finally a little whole grains. The grains should be the smallest portion on the plate, especially during the off season. Bob goes into much more detail in his book, which I recommend for more information.
You’re basically teaching your body to use more fat by controlling blood sugar, which has the added benefit of reducing body fat. This isn’t something you do just while training, it’s a way to change your daily diet (nutrition) to improve your body’s metabolic efficiency.
As you improve your metabolic efficiency, you should be able to reduce the amount of calories you need during training.
Why Metabolic Efficiency?
I think Bob says it best:
[Better metabolic efficiency] has allowed hundreds of athletes to fuel with fewer calories during training and racing, which decreases reliance on simple sugars. (source)
Fewer calories during training and racing means less chance for Gastrointestinal (GI) Distress. I find that eating a mostly plant-based diet also helps significantly for me, but everything I can do to further reduce the chances of this issue, the better!
What Does This Look Like?
You may remember I originally shared my thoughts on running fuel in a series early last year (part 1, part 2, part 3). Instead of revisiting all the details in there, I thought I’d focus on how my strategies have changed for me:
As long as I’m eating consistently throughout the day (Every 3-4 hours ideally for best control of blood sugar), I don’t usually eat a snack before a training session. In fact, I’m completing most morning workouts on an empty stomach without a problem! I’m better able to tap into my stored fuel without sacrificing performance.
The one thing I am careful about here is sugar intake – I don’t want a spike in blood sugar just before I begin my workout.
I eat a lot less calories during training and racing than I used to. In the past, I started adding nutrition for typical workouts of 90 minutes or longer, with 100 calories every 40-45 minutes. When I did my first Ironman, I believe it was more like to 200-250 calories per hour.
Today, I save sports nutrition for workouts of 120 minutes or longer, with just 100 calories per hour. For runs, I eat a Vega Gel with water every hour. For bikes, I eat 1/2 a Vega Endurance Bar with water every hour. Swimming is always just water.
That means for a 2 hour workout, I take in 200 calories, instead of 300+ calories. That really adds up for the longer races like marathon, half ironman, and ironman distances.
This hasn’t really changed, other than being aware that a hard workout doesn’t mean I get to eat whatever I want.
This is a lot of information, so what should you do with it? Think about what you’re eating and adjust the proportions and frequency. Review what you’re eating before, during, and after your workouts – do you need nutrition on all your workouts? How much?
If you interested in nutrition and getting deeper into these concepts, consider getting a copy of Metabolic Efficiency and learn from Bob directly. I’ve also just downloaded Nutrition Periodization for Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level, which I’m excited to read and expand my knowledge in this area.
DISCLAIMER: I was not compensated for this post in any way, in fact I doubt Bob remembers me from USAT training last year. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links I set up for products I love, I make a small commission from each purchase made through those links.