Interview with the nutritionist of the BMC Racing Team

“Train low” means training with low carbohydrate availability. Put simply, the body only has a small amount of carbohydrates available to use as a source of energy.

For intense training sessions (e.g. speed training), and during races, it’s important for the glycogen stores (carbohydrate reserves) in the muscles and liver to be well filled. During prolonged endurance exercise carbohydrates should additionally be consumed in regular intervals throughout. Only this way can the maximal potential be eked out. To promote endurance training specific adaptations in the body and to optimise fat metabolism, it can however indeed be beneficial to undertake specific training sessions of lower intensity with limited carbohydrate availability. Current “Train low“ approaches include, for example, training in the morning after an overnight fast, i.e. without breakfast. There are also other “train low” methods, such as training with previously emptied glycogen stores: here, an intense exercise session is used to deplete the glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. In the following recovery period, the meal has to be carbohydrate-free (no bread, pasta, muesli, potatoes, etc.). On the same day there then follows a second training session with significantly reduced carbohydrate availability, and reduced training intensity. In a nutshell, there are currently several different “train low” nutritional- and training strategies, and each one affects the body differently.

Whether at all, and if so, which “train low” method can be integrated in the most appropriate manner into a training plan must be decided individually. In the following interview Judith Haudum, nutritionist for the BMC Racing Team, gives us an interesting insight into the “train low” methods. Judith is responsible for the advice, support, and care of the cyclists in all things nutrition, and always makes sure that the right meals and snacks are available for them.

Judith Haudum

Are “train low” sessions relevant for the riders of the BMC Racing Team?

Carefully selected training sessions with low carbohydrate availability can certainly be useful. The body learns that way how to better use fat as an energy source. However, it’s important to remember that just doing lots of “train low” sessions won’t suddenly turn you into a great cyclist. We therefore only integrate carefully chosen, and perfectly timed “train low” sessions in the training plans of each individual rider. Some of the riders have been using these sessions for years, but there are others who can’t deal with any level of intensity without sufficient carbohydrate availability, and as such we don’t use them at all with them.

How often do you integrate “train low” sessions in the training program?

Very rarely more than twice per week. The reason for this is that correspondingly, the intensity of training with reduced carbohydrate availability is also less. To maximise the desired training adaptations, the majority of all sessions are ridden with full glycogen stores, which allows for maximal intensity work. In the racing season itself it’s definitely taboo to include any “train low” sessions. Here the focus lies in optimal recovery and optimal carbohydrate availability, i.e. full glycogen stores, and the appropriate carbohydrate intake before, during and after the activity.

There are several different nutritional strategies for “train low”. Which of these are put into practice in the BMC Racing Team?

We only use one method, which is to ride on an empty stomach (in the morning without breakfast). Some riders have tried the strategy where you previously empty your glycogen stores: you complete a hard session to fully deplete your glycogen stores. In the following rest period you refrain from eating any carbohydrates, so that the second session can be ridden with depleted energy stores. However, the riders preferred the method where you ride without breakfast and with an empty stomach, which is also a lot easier to practice.

Which nutritional practices are out into place before, during and after training after an overnight fast?

The right fluid intake is important; therefore the riders drink sufficient before they even get on the bike. Some riders also drink coffee or espresso, as that contains caffeine, which wakes you up and lets you train harder. Cycling after an overnight fast is definitely more challenging, and the feeling of tiredness is much more obvious in comparison to riding with a sound nutritional foundation from a meal. During the “Train low” session the riders drink mainly water or calorie-free 5 Electrolyte tabs with or without caffeine. Directly after the session has ended the refuelling of the energy stores begins. This is very important, as the following day there will be high-intensity sessions, and these must be begun with full energy stores, i.e. sufficient carbohydrates. The recovery period therefore always starts with the combined intake of carbohydrates and protein. The intake of these nutrients is either covered through a proper meal, or a recovery shake and a small snack later on.

© Corinne Mäder, Senior EU Sport Nutrition Manager PowerBar. International Olympic Committee postgraduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition