To gel or not to gel?

I’ve been reading a new book my wife got me for Christmas…Healthy Intelligent Training: The Proven Principles of Arthur Lydiard by Dr. Keith Livingstone. I’ve always been a fan of Lydiard’s methods and think he was way ahead of his time. I also think many folks dabble in Lydiard and don’t truly understand him. This book puts his methods in perspective and also has the benefit of our current understanding of physiology, training response, etc. It’s a geeky training book, but really good.

Anyway, point of the post…

It has an interesting section on carb intake (e.g. gel, energy drink, etc.) on long runs in training—not racing. It says we should not use ANY carbs during long training runs of up to 3-3 1/2 hours (anything over that, supplementing carbs is recommended). Also, keep in mind these are aerobic steady state runs, not hard pace. They do recommend water and electrolytes (especially if it’s hot), but no carbs in order to train our systems to conserve glycogen and burn fat.

The basic physiological premise is this…

While running slowly increases fat burning for fuel, another way to really increase fat burning is to run when the blood glycogen (carb) stores are lowered. When muscle glycogen stores are lowered, fat burning really goes up since there is little carbohydrate available to utilize. Carb stores are lowered after 1 to 2 hours of running so you want to do 30-90 minutes of running AFTER this to maximize fat burning and to help stimulate the body to store more muscle glycogen for future runs (and races). When running (and racing) for this long, the blood glucose level also lowers. Ingesting carbohydrates, either through a sports drink or energy gels, before and during the run, maintains your blood glucose level. This no carb approach challenges the body to run with a lowered blood glucose level (and over time) adapt to better handle this state of lowered blood glucose.

The long, steady state runs must be at least two hours. The longer the better. If you’re used to gels during long runs, you’ll have to ween yourself, as your body is adapted to the constant supply of blood glucose and not the lowered state. But, as you reduce, the body will adapt and you’ll eventually be able to run up to 3 1/2 hours without any carbs (Which could take up to 8 weeks to adapt fully, depending on the individual). They also recommend not having any right before the workout either. Have normal breakfast (several hours before), then go train. This is for training only, then, in a race, you give yourself the normal dose and your body feels pampered. Interesting stuff.

NOTE: The book does say, that when you do this in training, you need to be ready to ingest carbs, protein and fat immediately afterward, or at a minimum within that 30 minute window after run completion. You’ll be low and need to get your glycogen levels back up for recovery and next day training. It’s just for during the long run.

Question…have any of you tried this? I know the Skaggs brothers practice this and so does Tony Krupicka. I’ve been thinking about it for a while (the weening off completely for 2-3 hour runs). And, over the past season, have actually started ingesting less gel on long training runs than I would in a race and not taking any up to 2 hours or so…occasionally, but not consistently. However, this takes it to a different level and has a few studies to back it up. Anyway, found it interesting and thought I’d share it. Giddyup!

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