I have been helping athletes to create nutrition plans for their races for a long time. For 25 years, I have worked with, listened to and learned from professional as well as recreational athletes. My advice was always based on evidence, studies that we and others conducted in the laboratory and in the field. Many athletes I worked with solved their nutrition issues like stomach problems, running out of energy by having a solid nutrition plan based on science.
I was always asking the same questions and would work out a plan depending on the answers. When Bill Braun, an athlete himself, contacted me a little while ago, we started to develop a web based tool for endurance athletes that helps to create a personalized and evidence based nutrition plan.
We called the tool CORE as we believe that nutrition is at the CORE of every performance and performance starts from this CORE. The tool is now available online on www.fuelthecore.com. This blog describes the basics of what CORE does and some of the science behind it.
Many endurance athletes don't get their nutrition right and therefore their races can be hit-and-miss. Often athletes quote nutrition as the main reason why a race did not go as planned? Why can’t they get it right? Maybe because there is so much information out there and so many opinions? Maybe because a plan that works for one person does not necessarily work for another? Nutrition is highly personal. Some athletes can tolerate anything, some athletes seem to get runners trots just from looking at gels! Some athletes sweat lots, some don't. Many factors will determine the requirements for a race including weather, temperature, humidity, of course the exercise intensity, the pace but also the availability of nutrition during a race and many other factors. There are a lot of things to consider. With CORE we tried to build a tool that takes all of this into account and for the athlete it will take the guesswork out of planning.
Under the bonnet
Without going into too much detail how the algorithms work, here are some of the factors that are taken into account:
Carbohydrate requirements depend very much on the goal of training (or racing). If the goal is optimal performance, carbohydrate recommendations are generally higher. If training fat burning is a main goal, you want to minimise carbohydrate intake, so you don’t suppress fat burning. On the other hand, you don’t want the intensity of training to drop too much because that will mean, fewer calories burnt and less fat burnt! (these principles are discussed in this blog on periodised nutrition).
Sweat rate: there are individual differences and sweat rate is mostly influenced by the exercise intensity and environmental conditions. The amount of heat your body produces is determined by the power output. In other words, it is the pace that determines the heat production and not the perception of effort. If a professional cyclist and I both work hard at say 80% of our max. The pro cyclist may ride at 400W whilst I ride at 300W. This means heat production is roughly about 3200W for the pro cyclist and 2400W for me. So if an athlete tells us the expected time (pace) we have some idea of the absolute intensity.
We recommend to calculate sweat rates by measuring body weights before and after training in different conditions (check this blog on how to do this). If such measurements are not immediately available, predictions can be made based on the most important inputs that determine sweat rate.
5 step process
CORE is a 5 step process. Once you have gone through the first 2 steps CORE will know a little about you and your event. If the location of the event you are planning is known, the app will automatically retrieve the most accurate weather forecast at that time. There is enough information now to calculate some targets for carbohydrate and for fluids. The carbohydrate target is personalised, so that, if you don’t normally have a lot of carbohydrate in your diet and you don’t often train with carbohydrate, CORE would not recommend high carbohydrate intakes in a race (or training). The fluid target will allow a certain weight loss, as this is normal and to be expected, but it will make sure that this weight loss is not so much that it might affect performance.
If you are an experienced athlete who has experimented a lot in different races you can override the relatively conservative CORE advice and increase carbohydrate intake to levels above 60 grams per hour. You have to know that this is only recommended if the carbohydrate source consists of multiple transportable carbohydrates (read more here). So, although CORE can do it all for you, you can also work with your own targets using this tool.
In step 3 you can select the products you want to use. These can be the products you are used to and you know you can tolerate. These can also be the products that are available on the course of a race. CORE has a number of races pre-programmed, which means that for those races not only does CORE already know what products will be offered on course, but also where on course what is being offered. So if you wanted to race and not bring any products, you simply plan with the available products on course. You make sure that you pick up those products from the feed stations.
CORE has well over 1000 products in the database. This includes many sports nutrition brands but also many normal foods such as fruits, home made rice cakes and so on. You can even select bacon, sandwiches and a complete smorgasbord if this is your personal preference!
Once you have selected water, a sports drink and another carbohydrate source, and you indicate your preferences for water versus sports drinks, CORE’s algorithms can do their job and generate a plan for you! You can than change and tweak this plan as much as you like. In fact, this tweaking is step 4. It is highly recommended that you move products exactly to where you want them. You can add products, remove products, or move product earlier or later. Every time you move something your totals will change, the dials will change and you may get closer or further away from your targets. Just keep an eye on the dials that will tell you whether your plan is on target.
Get a report
Once you are happy with your plan, you can get an overview of your plan (step 5: the final step). You will get more details of your plan and a simple summary of what you need to bring and what will be available on course. You can see your total sodium intake, your caffeine intake and so on. This reminds me that CORE does not recommend specific amounts of sodium or caffeine for individuals because large individual differences exist in the needs and these are probably best established by trial and error/personal experience. CORE will help you to calculate your totals for sodium and caffeine, so you can see of you hit your own targets.
In this final step you can also print a pace band or a summary plan many cyclists and triathletes have been using on their top tubes of their bikes to remind them of the plan during a race.
Pace bands and sticking to your plan
Your pace bands can remind you during a race or training to what you have planned. Now you have to execute your race or training and follow the plan. We recommend to stick to the plan as much as possible but of course use common sense. The biggest mistake (in my opinion) is to enter a race with no nutrition plan at all. The second biggest mistake, however, is to stick to a plan at all cost. Conditions may change and you still need to listen to your body.
This program will give a customised/personalized plan: no 2 plans will be the same because everyone is different and the conditions are always different. It will give you the best chances of a good race and aim to minimise any gastro-intestinal distress, preventing over as well as under hydration and keeping you fuelled to the finish.
Andre Greipel's bike ahead of Pari-Roubaix 2017, fitted with a CORE nutrition plan.
There is a free version of CORE which works fine but will not have all the features discussed here. The premium version of CORE is relatively inexpensive and you can pay monthly or per year.
Most features here are included in the free version. But some of the features NOT included in the free version include:
- creating your own event
- access to all 1000+ products