Last week’s blog delved into the world of carbohydrates, what they are and why you should eat them. If you missed it click here. In this blog, I briefly mentioned the concept of training low carbohydrate intake to improve performance. What I was referring to was the concept of “train low, compete high.” This week’s blog is going to delve into this topic.
Training “low” essentially means training with low carbohydrate availability. We have limited stores of carbohydrates in the muscle and liver known as glycogen. Training with low carbohydrate availability means training when the body is deprived of carbohydrates. Training with low carbohydrate availability stimulates fat metabolism and mitochondrial biogenesis to improve oxidative capacity. This improved oxidative capacity is thought to enhance endurance performance.
There are numerous ways to “train low” and each method could have different effects. Some common practices include:
- Training twice a day: The first workout decreases stored carbohydrates and then little to no carbohydrates are consumed before the second workout
- Training after an overnight fast: Training before breakfast on an empty stomach
- Long training without carbohydrate intake: Workouts of several hours without the intake of carbohydrates
Despite its ability to improve oxidative capacity, improved endurance performance isn’t consistently shown from training low. The muscle adaptations caused by training low don’t guarantee improved performance.This lack of improvement could be because training low negatively impacts exercise intensity or workout quality. Another con is the negative impairment of training low on muscle growth and repair. If you incorporate training low into your training, it’s important to consume adequate protein post exercise to offset this.
As mentioned above, training quality will likely be affected when training low. You would certainly not want to compete in a carbohydrate depleted state. Rather, it’s important to “compete high.” This means restoring carbohydrate availability for competition by ensuring you’re eating adequate carbohydrates.
Training low also needs to be carefully planned into a training cycle by only being used at certain parts of the year. For instance, it shouldn’t be done in weeks leading up to a big race or during recovery periods. Finally, training low is not appropriate for everyone, such as new runners building up their mileage. Rather than trying train low, they should just focus on building up their mileage.