Nutrition and Stretching


How does food play a role in fueling the muscles?
You’re getting ready to go do a workout and you’re hungry. You need to get some calories and nutrients into your system to prepare for your workout. You also need to make sure you have something to eat after the workout. Here is some basic information about nutrition for athletes, and links for further reading.

The first 10 seconds or so of forceful activity by your muscles is fueled by ATP (adenosine triphosphate) in your muscle cells.

Muscle cells continually manufacture ATP, but after the first 10-12 seconds of activity, the body must start to use glucose to manufacture ATP. So, after that first 10-12 seconds, in that first lap of your race, you just burned through your ATP and the body is starting to switch to the glucose system. You may feel like you have slightly less control of your muscles somewhere in that second lap.

Glucose circulates in the bloodstream, and is stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen is an efficient energy source and is easy for the body to break down. The brain uses glucose almost exclusively for its fuel source, so this is the way the body evolved to have a ready supply.

The carbohydrates that you eat supply the glucose to the body. The body calls for glycogen to be sent to the muscle cells. In this phase, you can continue forceful activity for about 50 seconds before your performance drops. The body then has to switch to another energy system as glucose stores are tapped out. Some of us can finish a 500 meter race in under 50 seconds. The rest of us are out there struggling as the body switches to the third energy system: the oxidative system.

Simply, your body needs fuel and, although the cells are still making ATP, and glycogen is still being converted to glucose to refuel the cells, demand exceeds supply. You have to switch to burning oxygen. This is why you feel dead right around that 50-second mark, when you’re trying to make a pass. This is why you look at the lap counter in the 1000m and have to dig deep to survive for three or four more laps.

Training for speed skating puts great demands on your body’s energy systems. The training we do is to make the body more efficient, get the body used to the demands of skating, and prepare the body to handle the energy system shifts.

But, once you understand how to eat to train, and how it feels when you are doing a hard workout, you can adjust to it. Remember, everyone in the race is feeling this too, and you can use it to your advantage.

How close to the workout should you eat? What are the best foods before a workout?
Sixty to 180 minutes before a workout an athlete should eat a meal with plenty of carbohydrates and some protein, to allow time for digestion. Start drinking fluids several hours before exercise. Fats will slow the delivery of carbs to your system and may cause stomach upset. If you don’t feel the need to use the restroom before the workout, you might not be drinking enough fluids.

How should you eat to prepare yourself for the workout, and to recover quickly after a workout? US Speedskating has information under the “Athletes/training tips” links.

There are plenty of on-line sources for nutrition for athletes.

Sports drinks
The major sports drinks on the market now contain the right balance of carbohydrates and electrolytes to replace what your body’s energy systems require. If you are performing strenuous workouts for more than 60 minutes, especially if you sweat a lot, you might perform better and recover faster with a sports drink.

Athletes training for the national speed skating teams have long workouts of skating, dryland and weight training. Sports drinks are an important part of maintaining a steady supply of nutrients to their bodies. If you are only skating 40 laps or so at our regular skating sessions, and you are not doing the warm-ups or dryland before or after the session, you probably can skip the sports drink and stick with water.

What about after the workout? How much should I eat? What should I eat?
After strenuous exercise, the body needs carbohydrates and protein within the first 30 minutes after completing the workout. The sooner you can get these nutrients into your body, the better it is for recovery. Most of us spend the first 30 minutes after a workout visiting with our buddies, changing, and thinking about where we’re going for a meal, or what our next errand is. If we were smart, we would nibble some post-workout food before unlacing our skates.

The recommended balance of protein and carbohydrates after a workout is roughly 50-60 grams of carbs for women, 60-80 grams for men, and 15-30 grams of protein for any athlete. Smaller athletes don’t need as much as larger athletes. But, how do you know what 50 grams of any food looks like? Here is a quick list of common foods and the grams of protein in each.

This is a list of common foods by 15-gram portion.

So, a quick post-workout snack might be a prepared energy bar that contains protein. If you plan ahead, you can pack up your own snacks that include carbohydrates and protein. It could be a piece of fruit and yogurt, string cheese, a hard-boiled egg, a peanut butter sandwich, a handful of nuts and raisins. Sorry: French fries from the snack bar are high in fat and low in protein. These aren’t the carbs you’re looking for.

calorie calculator and list of common foods

Calorie counter

National Collegiate Athletic Association Nutrition for Athletes

What about antioxidants and polyphenols? The internet is full of articles from “doctors” that turn out to be sales pitches for their products. Here is an article from UC Davis about polyphenols, so you can make your own food choices.


Speed skating, like cycling, is done with the legs and spine in a bent position. The position puts pressure on the hip joints and overuse can cause pain in the sciatic nerve. Skaters have the added problem of skating in one direction. Some skaters develop nerve pain in the hip joints and down the legs.

Regular gentle stretching can help prevent injury. Another way to help avoid these injuries is to perform dryland exercises in both directions, to keep the muscles more balanced.

Please consult a professional before using myofacial release tools such as balls, rolling devices and foam rollers. Of course, of you suspect you have an injury, you should see a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Website from a local doctor, about knee injuries

Guidelines for staying healthy for “boomer” athletes

Here are a couple of useful articles about piriformis syndrome and stretching and therapy.

Northern California Speedskating has a booklet published by Yasmen Mehta: Speedskater’s Guide to Flexibility. Please contact me if you are interested in purchasing a copy.