We’ve all ‘hit the wall’, or ‘bonked’ as it’s known to cyclists. It’s the worst feeling ever and the best way to put a damper on a good run, workout, ride or whatever it is you’re doing.
But let’s start from the top.
What IS Hitting the Wall?
Hitting the wall or bonking is pretty simple. Have you ever gotten mid-way through a ride or run and realised you’ve just got nothing left in the tank? All of your muscles feel like lead, you might even feel a little sick and you’ll definitely feel tired.
Bonking occurs when your body begins to deplete its glycogen stores, leading to an intense feeling of fatigue. This normally occurs after between 1 and 3 hours of intense physical activity, although it’ll differ from person to person, the exercise you’re doing and your environment.
Typical symptoms include light-headedness, inability to concentrate and weakness. Not what you need with another 5 miles to go!
How to Recover from Glycogen Depletion
Glycogen levels are linked closely to blood-sugar levels. The best way to increase your blood-sugar (or blood-glucose) levels is through eating.
The majority of us can store around 300-400g of glycogen in our muscles and a little bit more in the liver, which plays an important role in controlling our blood-sugar levels.
The easiest way to recover glycogen levels rapidly is with simple carbohydrates. Sugars, essentially. This is why you’ll often see runners and cyclists eats gummy bears and other sweets to keep them going through a race or long event.
Unfortunately, if you’ve already hit the wall it can be really hard to get enough energy to recover. Our body can only digest around 30g of carbohydrates per hour meaning the best solution is not to bonk at all!
Avoiding the bonk!
- Fuel properly the night before: Carb Loading. Carb loading is the name given to stuffing yourself with good quality, low-GI carbohydrates in the run up to a run or ride. Doing this allows your body to max-out blood sugar levels as efficiently as possible. Just don’t take this as an excuse to have a full loaf of bread every evening.
- Complex Carbohydrates are king - The type of carbohydrates we consume is incredibly important. Slow release carbohydrates such as oats or wholemeal pastas and grains help you manage your blood sugar and glycogen levels through the day.
- Top up before you exercise - A small meal before you go out will give your muscles a head start once you get moving, providing a small amount of carbs to be digesting while you exercise. A small portion of fruit or vegetables is a great start.
- Consume 60g of carbs per hour - This is especially important if you’re taking part in any form of long distance running or cycling. If you’re starting to feel low, energy gels can be a great way to pick yourself up - although do be aware that some people find them uncomfortable on the stomach.
- Hydrate Properly - We should all know this by now, but you need to stay well hydrated to perform properly. Make sure you drinking water before any form of exercise…
- ...Keep on drinking - If you’re taking part in any exercise over an hour long it’s incredibly important to consume an adequate level of fluids. Carbohydrate drinks are a great way to hydrate while providing an extra boost to energy levels.
- Recover properly - failing to recovering adequately is a great way to set yourself up to hit the wall. Replace lost carbohydrates quickly, and include at least 20-30 grams of protein in your post-exercise refuel. This will provide your muscles with the nutrients they require to rebuild quickly and efficiently.
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