Currently popular in the media are suggestions related to the possible performance benefits of restricting dietary carbohydrates. There are many different strategies being proposed, ranging from the consistent practice of a very low carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, to cycling carbohydrates throughout the year much like in a periodized training plan, to conducting just a few training sessions per week after a prolonged fast. There is much debate over this topic of “training low”, and one could certainly spend a small lifetime systematically dissecting each and every strategy. But that is not the purpose of this article. One thing that probably is true is that there are many in the endurance sports community experimenting with training low. We can read the latest newspaper or magazine article summarizing the latest research with regards to a specific low carb diet or training strategy, but essentially what it comes down to is finding out what works for you!
So if you are experimenting with a train low strategy, you may have found that its not easy, especially so at the onset. In a low carbohydrate state a workout that once seemed effortless may now leave you feeling weak and lethargic . You may also find you have trouble at higher intensities and are finding it harder to recover with greater sensations of muscle soreness. So, here are a three strategies to help with some of these challenges!
Caffeine – It’s one of the most highly researched supplements in endurance sports with many studies reporting a significant performance improvement from the ingestion of caffeine prior to exercise. Caffeine could certainly help you get through those low carbohydrate workouts by potentially lowering the RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Research has shown effects with doses as small as 2 mg/kg of body weight up to as much as 6 mg/kg. There are strong responders, and even those who have no response at all to caffeine, so experiment with different doses and find what works best for you. And in terms of the different forms, again it comes down to personal preference, but a popular and common choice is coffee! It ranges, but a cup of 12oz cup of coffee contains roughly 200mg of caffeine.
Mouth rinse – A somewhat “new” finding, but research has identified that by simply rinsing a high carbohydrate drink in the mouth and NOT ingesting it has a positive impact on performance. How does this work? The theory is by stimulating oral receptors that activate areas in the brain associated with reward! So if your goal is to restrict carbohydrate during a workout but you are having some difficulty keeping your pace, try swilling an energy drink in the mouth for about 5-10 seconds, and remember to not ingest.
Protein – One of the main arguments for training low is that it help promotes the body’s ability to burn fat. Ingesting even a small amount of carbohydrates could switch off fat metabolism, so fasting for a prolonged period before and during workout is one commonly proposed strategy. However, this may have negative consequences in relation to the maintenance of lean muscle mass. To offset this and preserve your muscle mass it is important to make sure adequate amounts of protein is consumed, you can check out this article for a guide on protein requirements for endurance exercise. And if you are doing longer train low sessions you may want to consider eating protein before or during your train low sessions, research has shown that the ingestion of protein prior to exercise likely does not impair the body’s ability to burn fat and may also provide a benefit in terms of preserving muscle mass.