How to Trick Your Body into Better Performance
Are you one of those people who pushes yourself to your absolute limit when you work out? Do you go until you just can’t go any more? Wouldn’t it be cool if you could trick your body into better performance just like competitive athletes do? You can! All you need to do is learn the simple trick of how to increase your glycogen storage to trick your body into better performance.
What is Glycogen?
Glycogen is a form of glucose (sugar/fuel) that is stored in the muscles. It provides the main source of energy for us when we are doing moderate or high-intensity exercise. Glycogen is produced by the liver when there is an over-abundance of glucose in the bloodstream.
Most body functions utilize the glucose that is floating around in our bloodstream for energy. Muscle tissue, however, primarily uses glycogen that is stored inside of it to fuel itself. The glycogen stored in our muscles is only available to the muscles. This stored glycogen can be accessed instantaneously.
Say, for example that you are being hunted by a cheetah and decide to make run for it. You could do so in a split second. You could run at high speed for some time before your muscles became fatigued. Unfortunately, cheetahs can outrun us, so you’d actually end up as lunch. At least you wouldn’t be exhausted when it happened! It takes about 1.5-2 hours of running to deplete our glycogen stores to the point of muscle fatigue. The cheetah would catch you long before then.
The glycogen stored in our muscles enables us to work harder and longer, but we can only store so much glycogen in our muscles. Say you were being chased instead by an angry mob that was pretty evenly matched with you athletically. Let’s also say you were able to keep them just out of arm’s reach. You could run, and run, and run, and run until your muscles used up all of their glycogen and you experienced muscle fatigue. People who do high-intensity or endurance workouts / sports often encounter this phenomenon. Therefore a great deal of research has been done on what to do to improve performance by lengthening the time until muscles are fatigued.
How to Avoid Initial Glycogen Depletion
Glycogen depletion can be delayed by consuming simple carbohydrates before and during exercise. Eating a relatively high carbohydrate meal just before you exercise ensures that you have a lot of glucose (fuel) in your bloodstream. This glucose can be taken up by your muscles during the early stages of endurance exercise. Eating carbohydrates during exercise helps to keep glucose in your bloodstream that can fuel muscles that are becoming glycogen-depleted.
For pre-exercise / event eating you may wish to experiment with different combinations of complex and simple carbohydrates as well as the timing of those meals. Simple carbohydrates require no further processing and are immediately available to us once they reach our bloodstream. Complex carbohydrates require some initial digestion before they can be utilized. There have been mixed results in research as to which form of carbohydrate is most effective.
For example, it is presumed that eating a meal of more complex carbohydrates 3-4 hours prior to exercise or an event would be ideal. This is because it would take a while to digest and become available. This holds true for some people. However, studies have shown that some athletes do well with a mix of simple and complex carbohydrates within an hour before exercise or event. In this case, the complex carbohydrates become readily available as the athlete is exercising. This did not seem to hold true with all people. Therefore, the recommendation is for each athlete to experiment to figure out what works best for him or her.
Carb Consumption During Exercise
As for consumption of carbohydrates during exercise, simple carbs are they way to go because they are immediately available. Liquid carbs can be absorbed quicker than solids, so carbohydrate-rich drinks prove ideal for this task. If you choose to consume a sports energy bar during exercise, look for one with low protein content. Protein can delay stomach emptying which delays the time it takes to get the glucose to the bloodstream.
Trick Your Body into Better Performance
If you are an endurance athlete, like a runner, swimmer, or cyclist, having more glycogen in your muscles means your performance will improve because you can avoid “hitting the wall.” “Hitting the wall” is another way to say ‘glycogen depletion’. If you are a competitive athlete, this can be the difference between winning and losing an event.
Tricking your body to store more glycogen in your muscles can be done in a relatively short period of time. Athletes commonly utilize this strategy before a big race to get a quick performance boost. The general idea is that you program the body to store more glycogen because you trick it into thinking fuel is in short supply.
Intentionally Induce Fatigue
In order to trick your body into better performance, you should first go through a tough workout about a week before your event. Intentionally bring about fatigue through glycogen depletion. (Note: This is something that you do infrequently, so you won’t be causing yourself harm.) Once your body is depleted, you consume carbohydrates in low amounts for a couple of days. This makes your body think that it doesn’t have access to the level of carbs it needs. You will likely feel a tad cranky as a result, so don’t say you haven’t been warned!
High Carb Diet Phase – “Carb Loading”
After a couple of days of low carb (not NO carb – LOW carb) intake, train moderately and then consume a high number of carbs over a period of 3 days. A meal or two is not enough to completely fill your glycogen stores. Your body will take advantage of these carbs and store them like crazy as glycogen. You will gain a little water weight at the same time because that is part of the glycogen storage process. Don’t sweat it. This water is in your muscles, so they will be hydrated for optimal performance on race day.
One word of caution about carbohydrate loading: your blood sugar levels will rise. If you are a diabetic, be very careful and monitor your blood sugar levels. A person who is not diabetic should have no trouble with temporarily elevated blood sugar levels because their insulin brings it back down quickly. Diabetics should consult a physician before attempting to carbo load.
What about fats and proteins?
Fats and protein slow down the digestion of carbohydrates. If you are carb loading before an event or consuming carbs during exercise, you should limit your fat intake and keep your proteins low to moderate. Generally a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is recommended.
What about post-exercise / post-event nutrition?
After you finish your exercise or event, you should stock your body full of nutrients. Focus especially on carbs to replenish your depleted glycogen stores. Simple carbs work well post-workout because the body incorporates them rapidly. Be sure to follow up with adequate amounts of protein as this will help to repair your muscles. Fueling your body after exercise is just as important as before and during exercise.
Remember, that this advice is to trick your body into better performance and is geared towards athletes who need sustained levels of glycogen to compete in lengthy events. If you are looking at burning fat with your workout, there is a different approach.