The following is part of a series of weekly articles by the "infamous" David Zylberberg, one of the original members of XC Ottawa. He is the writer of numerous amusing and sometimes controversial articles which have been the subject of much discussion within the Canadian cross-country racing community over the last 8 months. While David does not possess an advanced degree in physiology or sports science, hopefully the articles will be the source of much entertainment while you are putting off work, school, or chores. David's articles will be candid and will not be censored by the editors of XC Ottawa. (At least not usually) Please address your comments and questions directly to David.
Some weeks I have great adventures to share in this column. Some weeks I have new insights into skiing fast that I have just learned. This week I do not. Instead I thought I would share the way I like to structure food intake and workout times in order to optimise training. Others will do these things differently but I have learnt some general guidelines that I believe have helped me to train and recover consistently at a fairly high level.
I will have to divide these experiences into 2 different groups around training. The first is for when training as a full-time athlete, a university student with afternoon classes, or weekends for high-school students and those who work full-time. The second is a scenario in which there is a major activity that occupies the heart of the day (8:30 or 9:00 to at least 2:30) and would apply to students and workers. In both situations priority is placed upon doing workouts well and recovering between them.
In the first situation I like to wake up at a fairly early hour that remains relatively constant (7:30 works well for me but others prefer earlier). This is followed by a mid-sized breakfast dominated by complex carbohydrates (oatmeal works very well, even the instant variety). I like to wait 1 hour after breakfast before the workout begins since this allows for proper digestion and I no longer feel full and bloated. As a result I will generally plan to get up 1.5 hours before a scheduled workout (2 hours for really hard intervals to give an extra half hour to wake up). Then comes the workout.
I always make sure to bring food with me for after the workout in order to replenish my energy stores. I have heard different people say that optimal recovery requires carbohydrates within the first 20 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour after exercise. All I know is that it is important to get food down soon after. I prefer real food to supplements since it is macronutrients I am looking for, food has these and is cheaper. I usually bring fruit and bread to replenish different kinds of carbohydrates in a pleasant manner. After hard intensity or strength workouts, I will bring a protein drink (Nutri-Chem's XCOTTAWA formula) in order to help rebuilt muscle tissue. This food is important for recovery and allows me the time to get home and make lunch (lunch is generally 1 hour after the workout due to time and preparation). If I am doing a second workout, I will then try to eat something an hour before it begins. Also, I like to leave at least 5 hours between workouts if I am doing 2 a day. I think this allows for enough recovery that the second one can be done effectively. The second workout is followed by food like the first one, going home, making supper and doing what needs to be done. I often use this schedule while in school, and go to class between the two workouts, with homework in the evening. This schedule also works on days where I do one workout (often a long one) just I do not do the second one and eat supper sometime in the evening.
Now comes the second scenario in which something else occupies most of the best parts of the day. I am currently working 9-5 and will make references based on that but it also works for high school students and shorter work days.
If I am doing 2 workouts (which high school students do not often need) then one must be before work. The morning workout becomes the more minor one and is limited to what is available near home (though you could change the schedule and arrange something near work). I have not been doing workouts over 75 minutes before work this year since I find if I get up before 6:30 on these schedules then I do not get enough sleep. Day begins with alarm clock. Immediately get dressed for workout (clothes laid out night before), drink some water, grab dried fruit or small glass of orange juice and be out door within five minutes of waking up. First 10 minutes are not fully awake but I am after that and then workout goes similar to evening easy distance. The small amount of food is to waken the metabolism and keep blood sugar high enough to workout. Follow workout with some fruit, get ready for work, eat breakfast and go off like everyone else.
I generally eat a relatively light lunch (bigger than co-workers but smaller than I would if training full-time) when the main workout is in the evening. I found that when I ate heavy or greasy lunches my stomach felt full and my body lethargic after work. Since this is not condusive to good workouts, I have been careful to eat lighter lunches. It is good to eat something light mid-afternoon to keep blood sugar from going to low and productivity high (fruit is good). I eat something an hour before the workout still. Until a week ago I ate a piece of fruit but found that I occasionally became hungry late in 3 hour workouts and about once a month could not train properly. I have since added a bagel at this time and seem to have more energy though there haven't been any post-work 3 hour workouts since. I find this eating in the afternoon helps have energy for post-work workouts and helps training quality compare to that of full-time athletes. Workouts are followed by food like in the first scenario though if a workout is done from home and someone else is cooking supper I may just begin supper immediately after the workout.
Another thing I learned while working involves adjusting a training schedule to avoid feeling overextended and burnt out. 2 years ago I tried to cram in workouts where ever possible and generally did 2 a day on weekends and Mondays with harder workouts throughout the week. With work, I felt overextended. I have since decided that since Sunday is the long workout, it has no second workout. Also, Monday is either an easy day or off (depends on how much I am training) with no more than one workout. This way there is a break each week in which to recover physically and mentally. I know find that after the break I am very motivated Monday evenings and feeling energetic. Again, others may try something different but this rule in planning has helped me while working full-time.
I hope you have learned something from my experiences that will help you in working towards your goals.