Fuel for the Fire: How and What to Eat to Maximise Your Return on Suffering
As a Sufferlandrian, you don’t go easy. You don’t know the meaning of ‘sitting in’. When you venture outside and subject mere mortals to the bitter fruits of your Suffering, the only thing they ask for is mercy.
All of that, thanks to your formidable character and the proven benefits of the high-intensity/low-volume training approach The Sufferfest is built on. This approach requires consistently pushing your body to find out what you're truly capable of. To do that week in and week out, takes determination. It also takes proper nutrition.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
You can't put sawdust in the tank of an F1 car and expect it to win the race. For the same reason, you can't cram whatever you want into your body and expect it to perform to its potential.
To help take some of the guesswork out of nutrition we've put together some key concepts from Eating to Suffer, the nutrition guide we wrote with leading Australian Sports Nutritionist Alan McCubbin. If you want to dig deeper you can find the complete e-book available free in the 'Plans' section of The Sufferfest app.
The day before:
The day before a Sufferfest you need to store sufficient carbs to meet the demands of the session. The table below will give you an idea as to the carbohydrate intake requirements for a selection of The Sufferfest videos. If you’re aggressively targeting weight loss, use the lower end of the range (Chapter 6 of Eating to Suffer has additional information on modifying intake for weight loss). If you want to wring every last watt out of your Sufferfest session and give your trainer the almighty flogging it deserves, use the higher end of the range.
About two hours* before your workout:
Eat an easy-to-digest meal of familiar foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat. This will help to minimise digestive issues that could hamper your performance on the trainer. You should consume 1-2g of carbohydrates for every kilogram of body weight. Using this formula, a 70kg Sufferlandrian would aim to eat between 70-140g of carbs a couple of hours before training. The exact amount will depend upon the intensity and duration of the workout. A longer video like Hell Hath No Fury will require more carbohydrate stores, while a shorter (but still intense) workout like Extra Shot would require less. The table below, taken from a more extensive list in Eating to Suffer, will help you calculate the appropriate carb intake for each Sufferfest training video.
* Warning! Two grams/kg is a lot to eat two hours before a workout. Choose compact, easy to digest foods and fluids. If your training schedule has you pounding out a solid hour at 5am and you can’t get in a pre-workout meal, don’t despair (after all, there will be plenty of time for despair when you’re on the bike begging for that seventh interval to end). You can compensate by increasing your carbohydrate intake at dinner the night before. If your workout is later in the day but it’s still not possible to sneak in a meal two hours before, make sure you take in adequate carbohydrates during the workout.
Hydrate before you dominate:
How do you know if you’re adequately hydrated? The proof is in the peeing. If your urine is pale yellow or clear, you’re cleared for Suffering. If it’s darker yellow, you need additional fluids before getting on the bike. If it’s a pinkish-orange, chances are you went crazy on some beetroot juice (we cover that in Eating to Suffer). Multivitamins can also turn urine day-glo orange or light sabre green (that’s your body getting rid of excess vitamins). And if it’s red.... we don’t mean to freak you out, but you probably should stop reading this and get yourself to a hospital. Like, now.
The colour test does break down when you’ve had a few down the pub. Alcohol wreaks havoc with the hormones that regulate the kidneys, causing them to open the floodgates and release more water, even if you’re dehydrated. So if you've got a bit of a hangover from a VICTORY celebration, be sure to focus on your hydration.
EATING & DRINKING DURING A WORKOUT
Workouts up to 1 hour:
Have you ever done a crit or cyclocross race at full gas? These are short, intense efforts, and a workout like Revolver — which simulates the effort of events like these - will get you armed and ready to dominate. If you’re focused on these kind of shorter workouts, you probably don’t need to agonise over taking on additional carbohydrates during your Sufferfest session to keep your effort levels high for the duration.
But there is one surprising reason for having at least a small amount of carbs in these sessions. In Eating to Suffer, we talk about how savvy the brain is at monitoring the various systems and adjusting RPE accordingly to prevent permanent physical damage. But as smart as the brain is, it usually holds a little back to be safe. Sufferlandrians don’t hold back, they fight back. This is clearly unacceptable by your brain.
Take this scenario: you’re four intervals deep into A Very Dark Place and you went a little light on the carbs the night before. Your brain is monitoring carbohydrate stores, core body temperature, and blood pH, and it’s also looking ahead and keeping tabs on what nutrients may be available in the near future. Numerous studies have shown that simply signalling to your brain that more carbohydrates are on the way is enough to decrease the RPE and allow you to crank out more watts in those last few intervals. As crazy as it sounds, simply swishing a high-carb fluid (like a sports drink) around in your mouth and then spitting it out will convince your brain that more fuel is on the way, causing your brain to lower your RPE. This results in an increase in power of up to 2% if you had a pre-workout snack and up to 4% if you are training on an empty stomach. That brain isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
The swish-and-spit method is by no means mandatory. You get just as much benefit if you actually swallow, taking small sips of carb-containing drinks every 5-10 minutes during your workout and swirling it around in your mouth for about 10 seconds before swallowing.
Workouts over 1 hour:
If you're ready to tackle sessions like Blender (1 hour 40 minutes) or It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (2 hours), you’re going to need all the help you can get. Some extra carbs in your bloodstream are going to be crucial, ideally 30g of additional carbohydrates for every hour you’re chained to your trainer. What does 30g look like? That’s about the same as 600mL of sports drink at the standard dilution (36g), an energy gel (25g), a banana (20g), an energy bar (30-45g depending on the brand), or a cereal bar (20-25g). Those few, fleeting moments of recovery in between punishing efforts are the perfect time to fuel up and get you ready for the next descent into madness. Just have a bucket ready. You know how those intervals sneak up on you right in mid-chew.
Want to read more? Check out the full e-book, Eating to Suffer, available for free in the Training Plans tab of The Sufferfest app.