How to fuel for training and train yourself to fuel > Bindi Nutrition
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How to fuel for training and train yourself to fuel

Fuelling for training and competition – your gut needs training too.

By now many of you are well underway training for Busselton 70.3, Port Macquarie Ironman or looking ahead to Cairns Ironman.  We have some athletes training for the Paris Marathon and the Gold Coast Airport Marathon which is fast growing in status as the premier marathon course in Australia, and all of these are looming closer!


Do you have a nutrition ‘game plan’?

You might be thinking a fair bit about what you are eating, especially if you are in the solid stages of training. Or, perhaps, you are wondering what all the fuss is over nutrition? Lots of people (recreational and elite athletes alike) figure that if you are eating a variety of staple foods and plenty of them, indulging only in moderation, and keeping on track with your training … come race day, there should be no reason why you cannot tick the box on a good performance and reach your personal goal. Sounds simple right?


If only nutrition for training could be so simple.

Nutrition strategy is a hot topic amongst endurance athletes across all age groups and levels. Why? Because getting it right really does make a difference, in terms of your personal achievement and your journey for getting there.

There are so many approaches and opinions to be found on the ‘what, when and how to eat’ for training and competition, it is no wonder that you might feel somewhat bamboozled.  The trials and tribulations of athletes who document their nutrition journeys provide invaluable insights but you will soon learn that what works (and doesn’t work) for them doesn’t necessarily apply to you. When it comes to a personal nutrition plan, there is no one size that fits all.


Here are some key facts and principles underpinning fuelling during exercise, to help you make some sense out of all of the options before you: 

Why bother with a nutrition plan?

Failing to fuel or hydrate correctly during exercise can lead to undesirable outcomes such as:

  • Early onset fatigue (famously known as “hitting the wall” or “bonking”)
  • Slowing down
  • Poor concentration and decision-making (this can be a real downwards spiral in terms of pacing and ongoing nutrition choices during a race)
  • Increased susceptibility to injury
  • Gut disturbance or gastrointestinal distress (manifesting as dizziness, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting or diarrhoea)
  • Suboptimal body composition

Training versus competition:

First, let’s note the distinction between nutrition for training and nutrition for competition. This is nicely summed up by Louise Burke OAM, Head of Sports Nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport (2).

Nutrition in the training phase aims to:

  • Bring about adaptions in your body’s systems (including your muscles, heart and lungs) to achieve the specific characteristics that underpin success in your chosen event e.g. increasing your gut’s capacity to absorb carbohydrates
  • Sustain your training load for the long haul in the lead up to race day

Nutrition in the competition phase aims to:

  • Address specific limiting factors that would otherwise cause fatigue or a detriment in performance. The two most likely contributors to fatigue during prolonged endurance activities (i.e. more than 90 minutes) are dehydration and carbohydrate depletion.


What nutrients matter?

  1. Carbohydrates

Researchers have now well and truly established that consuming carbohydrates before, during and after exercise:

  • Improves your exercise capacity
  • Optimises your endurance performance

“Higher carbohydrate intakes are associated with better performance”

A large-scale study of endurance events found that in Ironman races, greater carbohydrate intakes were related with better finish times (3).

The types and combinations of carbohydrate make a difference.

The metabolism of carbohydrates into energy is dependent on the intestinal absorption of carbohydrates. Different carbohydrates use different ‘transporters’ for absorption across the small intestine; for example, glucose uses the sodium-dependent transporter for absorption while fructose uses a different absorption pathway (4).

Ingesting different types of carbohydrates simultaneously will utilise a greater number of absorption pathways. This results in a greater quantity of carbohydrate being absorbed within a given time frame than if you were to rely only on a single type of carbohydrate.

Glucose/fructose combination

There are clear performance benefits with ingesting a glucose/fructose combination than simply consuming glucose on its own. Cyclists, for example, have shown markedly improved power output when ingesting a glucose/fructose combination drink than a glucose only drink (5).

Maltodextrin/ Fructose combination

Fructose is very well proven in sports science to delay fatigue (i.e. “hitting the wall”) when combined with maltodextrin (a type of glucose).

This science underpins the maltodextrin/fructose formulation for Bindi Natural Sports Hydration, as it is very well proven to boost to your performance without causing gut issues.

  1. Electrolytes

Electrolytes are vital to nerve and muscle function and will support fluid uptake and retention in the body.

The addition of sodium to a sports drink will promote carbohydrate and water retention in the gut, maintaining the correct distribution of fluid in the body.

Potassium and magnesium play roles in muscle contraction during exercise, and so their addition to a sports drink will help to minimise the risk of muscular cramping.  We include all of these electrolytes in Bindi Natural Sports Hydration, in levels appropriate for athletes performing in Australian conditions.


  1. Fluids

Dehydration can impair endurance performance. Athletes undertaking high intensity training sessions or endurance events in hot weather are particularly at risk of losing body mass through sweating.  A loss of more than 2-3% of body mass is considered critical.  You may experience a decline in your physical and mental performance, increasing the likelihood of exhaustion.

A fluid intake plan should be drawn up to meet your fluid needs and practised in training. Do be careful – consuming a combination of solid foods and highly concentrated carbohydrate solutions (such as gels) can reduce your fluid absorption and exacerbate dehydration.


How can you work out your own ‘winning formula’?

When race day arrives, how will you fine-tune your nutrition strategy for competition, to deliver you the best results?

As renowned sports nutritionist Jeukendrup, points out, recommendations regarding carbohydrate intake are still not very specific. Yet, there is no doubt that carbohydrates are essential for exercise performance.

Your exercise intensity and the duration of the event or training session will influence your carbohydrate consumption (6).

Your race day nutrition strategy should not be a practice run or the time to try something new. You need to experiment and train your gut over time to absorb the carbohydrates you need to perform to your best on race day. You can take in your carbohydrates by consuming drinks, gels, or food bars. Use a mix and match approach to achieve your own carbohydrate goals.

As Jeukendrup reports (4):

“Anecdotal evidence in athletes suggests that the gut is trainable and that individuals who regularly consume carbohydrate or have a high daily carbohydrate intake may also have an increased capacity to absorb it.”

In our next article, we will look at nutrition strategies to train your gut before, during and after training or competition and consider issues to do with body weight, solids versus fluids, gut problems and hyponatraemia (low sodium).

In the meantime, enjoy training and do be mindful of what you are eating while out there building your kilometres! It will make a difference if you train your gut as well as your muscles.

Belinda x


  1. Sports Dietitians Australia. Fact sheet. Eating and drinking during exercise. Accessed March 2017 at:
  2. Burke, LM 2015. Re-examining high-fat diets for sports performance: Did we call the ‘nail in the coffin’ too soon? Sports Medicine, 45 (Suppl 1): S33 – S49. Accessed March 2017 at:
  3. Pfeiffer B et al. 2012. Nutritional intake and gastrointestinal problems during competitive endurance events. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 44: 344-51. Accessed March 2017 at:
  4. Jeukendrup A, 2014. A step towards personalized sports nutrition: Carbohydrate intake during exercise. Sports Medicine, 44 (Suppl. 1): S52-S33. Accessed March 2017 at:
  5. Currell K, Jeukendrup A 2008. Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 40: 275-81. Accessed March 2017 at:
  6. Jeukendrup A, 2011. Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 (Suppl 1): S91 – S99. Accessed March 2017 at: