On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer: the less you eat, the lighter you are. The lighter you are, the faster you can go. In other words: eat less, go faster—right?
Although most endurance athletes want to be as light as possible, they know it's also important to be strong. Unfortunately, the two don't always go hand in hand. What's more, oftentimes as athletes attempt to lose fat, they tread between being light and feeling good and being light and feeling lousy, sickly and even undernourished.
In fact, athletes may shun fuel in an attempt to reach the fat-burning zone and lose weight—at the expense of their performance. If this is your plan and you're a serious athlete who trains for more than 90 minutes at a time, unfortunately you'll likely not meet your weight-loss or performance goals.
So, how can you accomplish your race or weight goals and still train well? The answer lies in knowing when, when not and what to skimp.
When to Skimp
When working out for 60 minutes or less, you can likely get away with no extra fuel before, during and after training—and still train well.
Workouts that range from 60 to 90 minutes fall into gray area. Weigh your individual needs and the benefits against the cost and logistics of carrying fuel. You can time daytime snacks or meals as pre-training or recovery fuel, assuming you have a good, consistent eating plan. You can also skip the carbohydrate-loaded drinks and opt for a fluid with electrolytes, water or nothing during training. Just be sure to hydrate well afterward.
When Not to Skimp
Research shows that performance improves when carbs are added during training sessions greater than 90 minutes. Remember, this isn't a subjective analysis of how an athlete feels during this training, but an objective measurement of how they perform.
If you skimp during these longer training sessions, you may perform lousy and still not lose a pound. Research has shown that you will oxidize more fat during a training session if you don't fuel and your body goes into fasting mode. It does not, however, show that you will lose more fat. By starving yourself during a longer training session, you've accomplished nothing and will likely make up the calories afterward. Instead, fuel well, recover, and stick to your daily eating plan to lose fat.
More: Make a Meal Plan