Apr 27, 2018
Hitting the Wall
Laura Anderson

When athletes follow proper nutrition and hydration guidelines, they should have no problem getting through workouts. But sometimes the busy life of a student-athlete prevents them from doing this, and they experience the dreaded “bonk.”

The bonk, or “hitting the wall,” is an indication that the body’s glycogen stores are depleted, and the athlete’s ability to work at high levels may be compromised. Symptoms include feeling weak and tired, being shaky, sweating, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Most athletes have experienced this dreadful feeling, and it is next to impossible to continue at the same intensity pre-bonk, even for the most metabolically efficient runners.

During individual nutrition sessions with each athlete, I do my best to help them plan strategies for keeping the bonk at bay. When training or racing, I encourage them to have products on-hand such as a sport drink, gels, bars, or blocks to provide their body with an endogenous form of carbohydrate and allow them to complete the practice or meet at the intensity expected of them.

Presently, there is a lot of conversation in the endurance world about improving performance by following a low carbohydrate diet. While there is solid research showing an increase in the body’s ability to utilize fat at a high intensity, thus preserving glycogen stores, there isn’t solid evidence of actual performance improvement in real-life endurance athletes. Until that time, I will continue to educate the athletes on how to periodize their carbohydrate consumption around training sessions and body composition goals during specific times of the year.

Laura Anderson, MS, RD, CSSD, is Director of the Performance Nutrition Department for University of Colorado athletics.

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