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Load-Reload-Top off Your Tank

If you are like many endurance athletes, you prefer to train first thing in the morning. One of the most common issues I address with the athletes I coach around the world is their pre-training fuel (or the lack thereof). A number of athletes choose not to eat or drink anything prior to their early morning workout. In questioning athletes over the years on why they choose not to eat prior to exercise, they respond by saying; “I am just not hungry in the morning.” “My stomach gets upset if I eat anything.” “I am trying to lose weight, so if I do not eat before exercise, I will lose more weight.” “I am only going to train for 45 minutes to one hour, so I do not need calories for this workout; I will just drink water.” 

So, what is the best way to handle your pre-workout…to fuel or not to fuel?

When we ingest carbohydrates, glycogen is formed. Glycogen, which is fuel for our body, is then stored in our muscles (some is stored in our liver). Now, let’s go back to last night's dinner. Following a nutritious, balanced dinner that included carbohydrates, protein and fat, glycogen is formed and stored in our muscles and liver. Our muscle glycogen tank is now topped off. Following dinner, we sleep 7-8 hours. Upon awakening, we are normally slightly glycogen depleted and slightly dehydrated. When we deplete our body of glycogen, our body becomes less efficient, and our performance will be hindered in training. So, if we choose to workout at this point, and we are not properly fueled, we will continue to deplete muscle glycogen. The return on our investment at this point is not nearly as good as it could be.

The solution to the above scenario is to top off your tank. We want to top off our glycogen stores upon awakening. When you train on a full tank of gas, your performance will be that much greater (as will your recovery; better recovery leads to better performance). You will notice that you will be able to train harder at lower heart rates, you will feel more “alive” during your workout, and your post-training soreness will be minimized. You may still question the whole “upset stomach issue” with pre-training nutrition. Well, just as you have trained your body to run, bike, etc. for certain distances, you can train your GI system to handle pre-workout fuel as well.

Let’s examine some pre-training fuel that will take your workouts to the next level. If you are not accustomed to fueling before workouts, no worries; let’s crawl before we walk. Liquid calories are a great place to start. These tend to be easily tolerated by one’s digestive system. Ideally, you want to find a pre-workout fuel that contains carbohydrates as well as some protein and dietary fat (the amount of total calories will vary based on your body weight, gender, length of workout, intensity of workout, etc.). One big advantage to liquid calories is that you can ingest these liquids just minutes prior to your workout without any gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Many athletes have an ‘iron-gut’ and can handle a variety of pre training fuel sources. Solid fuel works very well; for example, a bagel and peanut butter will help to power you through a workout.

As an endurance athlete, you want to spare glycogen in order to facilitate fat as your primary fuel source. In order to spare glycogen, you must load and reload your muscle glycogen. When your body begins to spare glycogen, your body’s efficiency will increase. In time, you will find yourself training longer, harder and faster at the same or lower heart rates.

If you are already fueling prior to training, you are to be commended; keep up the good work. If pre-training nutrition is foreign to you, no worries; you are not alone. Just as you train your body to swim, bike, and run, you can train your body to properly handle pre-training nutrition. Start with the liquid fuel and you will soon notice enhanced early morning workouts as well as improved recovery for the next days training session. Enjoy the new pre-training fuel, top off your tank, and take your training and racing to the next level!

Dr. Rick Kattouf II is the CEO/Founder of TeamKattouf, Inc., Host of Rx Nutrition,
author of Forever Fit, ITCA Certified Triathlon Coach, MMA Conditioning Coach, Food
Psychology Coach, Wellness and Nutrition Consultant, Sports Nutrition Consultant,
Entrepreneur, Business Owner, Inspirational Speaker, Creator of of TeamKattouf
Nutrition Supplements and Moderator of TrainingPeaks Q&A Nutrition Forum.
Rick’s training & meal plans can be found on TrainingPeaks. Rick can be reached at or

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Reader Comments (6)

What is the appropiate timing stratedgy in order to avoid a blood sugar crash?

September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLs

Missing from this article - suggestions about WHAT to drink or eat, aside from the bagel with peanut butter.
If we are to start with a form of liquid nutrition - are we chugging a bottle of Gatorade or alternative sport drink? And what about other choices, such as oatmeal or a bar?

It would be helpful to have a few suggestions for guidance. Thanks

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandie Orlando

RE: "Ideally, you want to find a pre-workout fuel that contains carbohydrates as well as some protein and dietary fat (the amount of total calories will vary based on your body weight, gender, length of workout, intensity of workout, etc.). One big advantage to liquid calories is that you can ingest these liquids just minutes prior to your workout without any gastrointestinal (GI) distress."

Is a Whey protein drink a good example of this pre-liquid fuel? I've always thought it was for post workout, but perhaps you need the same nutrients pre- and post- run?

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDenise Peterson

So should you have a bagel & peanut butter even for a short but intense ~1 hr session? As a weight obsssed cyclist it's hard to get the head around peanut butter!

September 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersimon q

Dear Dr Rick, Thanks for the article. I learnt from a few other coaches who mention that we should not fuel prior to training so that we will teach our body to burn more fat instead. I have been trying that for a while and found it effective as my body fat has reduced and I can last a lot longer without the need to re-fuel unless my workout is longer than 150mins. What are your thoughts?
Best regards Jit

September 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJit

Dr. Rick, thanks for the Top off Your Tank article. Other than the bagel and peanut butter (which I am a fan of), what other easy on the stomach and easy to digest foods would you recommend? How about a shake like the Myoplex line which is touted as a meal replacement with lots of protein (42 grams) or a quick shot from a gel pack just prior to the workout for a last minute source of carbs? Thanks for the comments on an issue we all deal with.

September 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKona Jim

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