Five Fueling Myths Revealed

Debunking common nutritional falshoods, plus tips for training right

From the what to eat to how fast you eat it, the way you fuel your body has a big impact on your performance. Here, five myths that needed debunking. 

Fueling Myth: You need to eat within 20 to 60 minutes post-workout.
Fueling reality: In almost every study or experiment that’s investigated post-workout nutrition replacement, subjects were fed after finishing exercise done in a fasted or semi-starved state. And real people don’t exercise like that.

If you’ve had a pre-workout meal (or any recent meal), there’s no need to eat right away—especially if you’re still “burping up” food and don’t have another workout planned for the day. But, if you’re exercising early morning (sans breakfast) or have another workout within 8 hours, grab a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein (such as a banana smoothie with a scoop of protein powder), and you’re set.

Fueling Myth: You’ll bonk without extra carbs in a 2+ hour workout
Fueling reality: When your body burns through its carbohydrate storage, fat is used as fuel—which means, because fats burn slower than carbs, that your pace and intensity decreases. If you’re in the middle of an all-out marathon or intense tri, you’ve hit the wall, and should have given your body some additional fuel. But races are not training.

You only need carbs for long and intense exercise. If you’re going on a long aerobic ride, hike, workout, or run, burning fat as fuel is just fine. Your body doesn’t need more than a few dozen calories of carbohydrates (or any, really) to efficiently burn fat and keep you going.

Fueling Myth: Small meals and snacks will boost your metabolism all day
Fueling reality: If your total caloric and nutrient content stays the same, then your metabolism level stays the same (and studies support it). Your body does not burn more calories by “constantly digesting,” as some have suggested, and your metabolism won’t slow down if you haven’t been nibbling.

At the end of the day, grazing is for cows (and, in fact, by keeping blood sugar levels elevated with snacking, you never let your body learn how to reliably burn fat as fuel, since you’re providing a constant supply of carbs). Bottom line: Quit snacking every few hours, and just eat when you’re hungry.

Fueling Myth: Calcium is the most crucial mineral for reducing osteoporosis risk and improving performance, bone density
Fueling reality: Magnesium and vitamin D (both of which most people are deficient in) are keys to the proper absorption and utilization of calcium. Magnesium not only converts vitamin D to its active form (so it can help absorb calcium), but also stimulates the hormone calcitonin, which helps maintain bone structure—lowering the risk of osteoporosis, arthritis, heart attack and kidney stones. Plus, magnesium vastly reduces soreness in athletes and can help increase performance.

Beware: Contrary to popular belief, most people do not have a calcium deficiency, and supplements can actually be dangerous, according to research. So don’t just add magnesium and vitamin D while you keep popping horse-sized calcium pills.

Fueling Myth: Lean proteins are highest priority for muscle repair
Fueling reality: Protein is important, and you should eat as much as you need for muscle repair (or building)—but not more than. Studies show that athletes need 0.55 grams per pound of protein to maintain muscle; 0.68 g/lb for building. Eating more can create an anabolic state, wherein you have too much nitrogen, putting stress on your kidneys and organs, dehydrating you, and kick an aging gene into high gear, potentially shortening your life. 

For more fueling myths, check out the eBook, Endurance Planet’s Guide To Sports Nutrition with Ben Greenfield: 20 Fueling Myths Exposed.