4 tips on how to avoid running out of fuel during exercise

By Arianne Brown

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 1 2014 4:12 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, July 1 2014 4:12 p.m. MDT

Hitting the wall, or "bonking" as it was deemed by Power Bar, happens when athletes don't fuel up before and during competition. Having experienced it before, I have come up with four tips on how to avoid it.

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There’s an old Power Bar commercial that depicts a man running a marathon. He's leading the race but struggling badly — almost staggering. As he approaches the finish line with arms raised, he hits the tape and bounces off it. He lays on the ground as the second-place runner effortlessly crosses the finish line.

The catchphrase of this ad campaign was “Don’t Bonk.”

Runners call it "bonking" when their bodies give out. If it's ever happened to you, then you surely empathize with the runner in the commercial.

It's happened to me twice, the first time during the 2012 St. George Marathon and the other during my first attempt at a 50K race in Zion National Park. Both times, it was the same feeling. My body and mind shut down and had nothing more to give. And both times, there was one major factor: fuel.

I didn’t have enough food or water to carry me through to the finish.

I know what it feels like to have nothing — I mean, nothing — in the tank, and I never want to experience that again. So I've studied up on it and taken measures to ensure that I don't.

Here are some tips:

1. Don’t skip meals before physical activity. Many athletes will skip breakfast, and I have even heard of some who have skipped dinner the night before a competition. “I don’t want an upset stomach,” some will say. “I’m afraid of needing to go to the bathroom,” others have said. I’ve even heard athletes say, “I was afraid of being too heavy on race day.” Eating (and drinking) before competition (as long as it’s something healthful and something your body is used to) will not cause stomach problems, but I can guarantee skipping a meal will.

2. Drink early and often. Just as you don’t want to put gas in your car in the middle of a long trip when the fuel light is blinking, don’t wait until your mouth is dry and your head is pounding (both signs of dehydration) to hydrate. Drink water days before, and take it in when you are able to during the race. You will be happy you did.

3. Electrolytes, protein and sugar are all a must. Your body loses electrolytes through sweating, protein helps in muscle performance, and sugar gives you energy. There are many different options, both natural and by way of supplements. Find what works for you, and stick with it.

4. Refuel after competition. Fuel not only is important before and during exercise but also is key in the recovery process. Your body will usually tell you what it is lacking, whether it is salt, sugar, protein, energy, water or all of those. It's a good thing a lot of competitions have things available at finish lines. If not, have a stash of chocolate milk, pretzels, fruit and water ready for you when you are done.

Arianne Brown is a mother of six who loves running the beautiful trails around Utah. For more articles by her, "like" her Facebook page by searching "A Mother's Write" or visit her blog, timetofititin.com.

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