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Coach Paul Duncan: The basics of fuelling for longer workouts

An in-depth guide from QT2 coach Paul Duncan.

Fuelling for training differs among individual athletes, but in general we all need similar requirements. A fuelling planScreen Shot 2016-02-09 at 2.53.32 PM helps us perform our best in training, but needs to be constructed around each type of workout you’re doing.

Here are some basic things to consider before coming up with a fuelling plan.
  • Carbohydrate needs/requirements — based on body weight and gender
  • Sweat rate — Sodium loss and fluid loss (testing needs to be done for this)

Common fuelling plan errors

  • No plan — Many athletes just dont have a plan. Self-explanatory.
  • Random plan — As a coach I am blown away by the amount of athletes that just do random stuff when it comes to fuelling. This is called the shotgun approach, it is not advised. If you want to perform well, your plan needs to be dialed in.
  • Minimal practice during training — Some people actually have a good plan in place, they just dont practice it in training. If you dont practice your plan during training, it will most likely fail on race day. Especially in longer events.
  • Single carb source — Many products out there have only one source of energy, typically that is maltodextrin. Typically an athlete can get away with a single carbohydrate source in a shorter workout, but this can become an issue in workouts over three hours, and even more as the distance gets longer.
  • Too little fluid — Most people just dont drink enough when training, leading to dehydration and impaired future workouts. Likely an athlete that doesnt drink enough in training, doesn’t drink enough in racing either.
  • Too little sodium or wrong sodium/carb/fluid balance — Simply put, not replacing the right amount of sodium in workouts. Most commonly from just using the wrong sport drink.


If you are fuelling properly every day, you are in turn also training your gut to handle what it needs on race day. It is highly recommend that you fuel every single workout as if you are racing. If you are not doing that, you probably wont race to your potential on race day. I cannot stress enough, that if you are training for long distance racing, this is most athletes biggest limiter on race day.

Besides training your gut, fuelling as if you are racing will help you perform every workout at the highest quality level possible.

General guidelines for fuelling longer workouts

Pre workout
Small amount of easy-to-digest carbohydrate. Oatmeal and peanut butter are not good options. Look for low-fibre, and low- to zero-fat. Fifteen to 50 grams of carbohydrate is sufficient.

Fluid: 16 ounces of fluid at least 25 minutes pre workout.

zsofi drinkingDuring workout

The amount of fluid you should drink is dependent on your sweat rate. General rule of thumb is that you are drinking enough fluid to ensure you are peeing every two to three hours on the bike and every hour running. These are minimums! If you aren’t doing this, you aren’t training to your potential. I recommend sports drink over water. Using the correct sports drink will ensure sodium/calorie replenishment as well as fluid. Most people require 20 to 60 oz. per hour depending on conditions.

Take in a simple carbohydrate in addition to sports drink. The majority of your calories should come from sports drink, the remainder of your carb needs should be satisfied through either gels, chews, or another fast absorbing carb source. The amount of calories an athlete needs is dependent on factors such as body weight and gender, but typically between 200 to 500 calories per hour.

Sodium needs should be based on your sweat test. A typical athlete loses between 400 to 700 mg. of sodium per 16 oz. of sweat. The main thing to think about here is just making sure to keep your sodium intake steady. For athletes with a higher sweat rate, I suggest they also use a gel that has higher sodium content.

Post workout
Post workout can be just important as pre and during workout fueling. The key aspects to consider in post workout fuelling is that the source is a fast-acting, high-glycemic sugar and easily-digested good quality protein. It should be either a 4:1, or 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. That’s more carbs than protein. Many athletes have this backwards.

The amount of recovery drink needed is dependent of the intensity of the workouts and the duration.

It is very important that you drink your recovery drink before eating your “normal” food again. Try to drink your recovery drink within 20 to 30 minutes of the workout finish.

Remember, the above are general guidelines. Consult with a coach or registered dietitian. If you have any questions regarding your personal fueling plan. Please feel free to contact me directly. I like to use THE CORE DIET and their team of registered dietitians as a resource for my athletes.

Paul Duncan is a triathlete, coach and military veteran living in Nevada, USA. He coaches for QT2 Systems.