“Bonk,” “Hit the Wall,” “Run out of Gas.” Whatever you call it, it’s the point that is every runner’s worst fear. You’re going along; feeling great, doing great and then all of a sudden it hits you, quite literally like you’ve run into a wall. Your legs get heavy, your pace slows, and reality sets in as you realize all your months of hard work are slipping away because you’ve effectively run out “gas.” If you’ve had this happen to you before, you know it’s a terrible feeling physically and mentally. The good news is this is one of the easiest aspects of running performance to address, and if you follow the three simple tips I will lay out in this article, not only will you NOT hit the wall, but you’ll jump over the top of it!
Before we get tips, let’s quickly establish what happens when you “hit the wall.” This point signifies the metabolic transition from the breakdown of carbohydrate as a fuel source to the breakdown of fat.
Now I know what you’re thinking; “I want my body to breakdown fat, don’t I?” Well, at rest you do, but during moderate-to-high intensity aerobic exercise, fat simply takes too long to breakdown (primarily because it’s not located directly in the muscle to be used as an energy source), whereas carbohydrate is available right inside of our muscles to be used as energy. The only problem is we have a limited storage space (“gas tank,” if you will) for carbohydrate. Once the gas in the tank is used up, we are forced to transition to a nutrient that breaks down more slowly, fat. When this happens, we have to reduce the speed at which muscles contract to give more time for fat to provide the body with energy. Simply put, carbs are fast acting fuels, fat is slow acting, so as soon as you transition to fat breakdown, your body forces you to slow down to give fat time to provide energy. This forced slowdown is when you “hit the wall.”
Now on to our tips:
Don’t prepare for a race and try to lose weight: Formal race prep (12-15 weeks before a race) is NOT time for weight loss. That should have occurred 15-30 weeks before the race. Your preparatory period can’t be a time of calorie restriction to induce weight loss, as this calorie restriction means carbohydrate restriction. This is sort of like taking your car on several long trips and never filling it back up with gas, eventually you run out of gas.
Consume at least 300-350 grams of carbs per day: We’ve been conditioned to think carbs are the enemy when they’re quite the opposite. They are the single most important fuel source for moderate-to-high intensity exercise. Furthermore, your running muscles must have at least 300 grams stored inside of them. That is your gas tank, and as a runner you have to refill it daily.
Nutrient timing: Consuming specific carb-protein sport beverages (like Accelerade, for example) before, during, and after exercise can have a profound impact on carbohydrate availability and utilization during exercise. Focusing on nutrient timing allows you to push carbohydrates to your active muscles at the most critical periods of a workout: before exercise to elevate blood sugar, during exercise to keep it high, and immediately after exercise to more effectively “refill” your carbohydrate “gas tank” after you run.
Although these solutions might seem simple, they are amazingly effective in their simplicity; even implementing one of these can have a huge impact on your performance. Implement all three and the sky really is the limit for you in your next race!