“Fuel for the work required” is a new way of approaching cycling nutrition. Let’s see what four days of training and eating under this paradigm might look like. There’s no better way of understanding a new approach than trying it out. So, take this example and try adjusting your schedule accordingly to see how it feels and how will you perform.
The authors of the fuel for the work required approach put together a sample schedule for an elite endurance cyclist who trains once per day on 4 consecutive days where each session starts at 10:00 am. Let’s take a closer look at what those four days might look like practically. There will be four main feeding points and the amount of carbs is colour-coded with red, orange or green, representing low-, medium- or high-carb intake.
The athlete will start the day with a high-carb intake before, during, and after training to be able to complete a long and high-intensity session. This might be a bowl of porridge with fruits for breakfast, energy bars or gels on the bike, and chicken with rice post ride. In the evening, the athlete will consume a low-carb dinner, for example, beef with vegetables to facilitate the “sleep-low, train-low” modality for a lower-intensity session on day 2.
The second day will begin with a low-carb breakfast, perhaps a Froome-style avocado and eggs, to commence the low-intensity training session with reduced muscle glycogen. The session will be done without any carbs to maintain the “train low” status. The rest of the day will be high carb to replenish glycogen stores and prepare for the day 3 intense training. So, a lot of rice and potatoes for post-training meal and dinner.
The third day will start with a high-carb breakfast, porridge with fruit, to allow for intense training. But given that day 4 is a recovery day with lower duration and intensity, carbohydrate intake is reduced to the medium during training and in the evening for dinner. So, fewer gels and fewer potatoes.
The rest-day breakfast will be low carb, eggs and avocado again, and recovery training will be done only on water, as the intensity can be easily maintained without any carbs. Carbohydrate load will be increased throughout the remainder of day 4 in order to prepare for another 4-day training block. So, back to full rice and potatoes portions.
In reality, the specific carbohydrate quantities need to be flexible in relation to athlete history, training status, and specific training goals. There’s no quantity that will be optimal for everyone. But if done right, this day-to-day and meal-by-meal periodization, as opposed to chronic periods of carb restriction and carb feeding, is likely to maintain metabolic flexibility and still allow the completion of high-intensity workloads on heavy training days. If you’re looking to implement this into your training, follow this logic:
Training low – Training sessions where the intensity and duration are not likely to be compromised by reduced carb availability (steady-state-type training sessions performed at intensities below the lactate threshold).
Train high – Training sessions that are carb dependent and that would suffer from low glycogen stores (interval-type sessions undertaken above lactate threshold).
If you get good at planning your carb intake to fit your training, you might find benefits for weight management too. That’s because train-low sessions on lower-intensity training days may allow for the creation of calorie deficits without negating training intensity. It’s time to focus on strategically using carbs to your advantage, not just blindly relying on them as the best source of energy for all scenarios. That’s the main takeaway from the “fuel for the work required” approach.