Nutrition Myth-Busting on Macros, Carbs, Food Allergies, Cramping, and Hydration

Ryan Kohler and Trevor Connor discuss some of the major myths and misconceptions in endurance sports nutrition.

nutrition myths no fancy race food gels

Time to bust some myths about nutrition. Head Coach Ryan Kohler and Coach Trevor Connor both have degrees in nutrition and decades of experience working with athletes on all manner of sports nutrition topics.

Together, they discuss some of the major misconceptions that regularly enter any conversation on what to eat when training and racing.

  • Are macronutrients all that matter?
  • Do carbs make you fat?
  • Do you need fancy race food?
  • How do you know if you have a food allergy?
  • What really causes cramping?
  • Is a pasta party the best pre-race dinner?
  • Can you “train” how your body hydrates?

We answer all these questions and many others as we explore some of the most common misconceptions in sports nutrition.

For other nutrition-themed Fast Talk episodes, check out:

Let’s make you fast!

Episode Transcript

Chris Case 00:12
Everyone, welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of cycling performance – today, the science of nutrition. I’m your host, Chris Case.

Chris Case 00:22
It’s time to bust some myths about nutrition. Head Coach Ryan Kohler and Coach Trevor Connor both have degrees in nutrition, and both have decades of experience working with athletes on all manner of sports nutrition topics. Together today they’ll discuss some of the major misconceptions that regularly enter any conversation on what to eat when training and racing. Are macronutrients all that matter? Do carbs make you fat? Do you need fancy race food such as Swedish Fish? How do you know if you have a food allergy? What really causes cramping? Is a pasta party the best pre-race dinner? Can you “train” how your body hydrates? All these questions, and many more today as we explore some of the most common misconceptions in sports nutrition. Let’s make you fast.

Chris Case 01:21
Fast Talk listeners, the past few weeks we’ve mentioned our new coaching, education, and community membership Fast Talk Laboratories. Because it’s the holidays, we’d like you to try it out for free. For the next week, you can join Fast Talk Laboratories on a free one month trial. That means you can join our live workouts and webinars, check out q&a sessions, get full access to our articles and how-to videos, and even take advantage of our Ask A Coach guidance. If you decide our membership isn’t for you just cancel within 30 days and you won’t be charged. To get your one month trial membership. Visit, choose your member level, and check out with the discount code “podcast”. Hurry offer ends December 24.

Chris Case 02:09
Hey everyone! Welcome to Fast Talk your source for the science of cycling performance and today, also, the science of nutrition where we’ve got, in the red corner, wearing the red t-shirt, Head Coach Ryan Kohler, weighing in at – I don’t know your weight or your height, but you’re taller than me. But you’re probably not that much heavier than me… In the blue corner we’ve got Coach Trevor Connor! And you guys are going to fight about the myths of nutrition today: macronutrients, carbohydrates, Swedish Fish, hydration, cramping, all these things in today’s episode. You guys ready to fight?

Trevor Connor 02:54
We are ready to go. Ryan had two slices of pizza before we walked in here so I know he’s not.

Chris Case 03:00
Ooo that’s fighting words. What do you got to say?

Trevor Connor 03:02
Well, I got nutrition shamed as I was eating so I’m ready here.

Trevor Connor 03:06
Oh, boy,

Chris Case 03:07
Nutrition shamed-

Trevor Connor 03:08
He didn’t get vegetables on it. He just got straight pizza.

Chris Case 03:10
Cheese is a vegetable, come on.

Trevor Connor 03:12
Well there you go. So is tomato sauce. Pizza was actually declared a vegetable because it has tomato sauce on it.

Chris Case 03:21
Well, now that you guys have your boxing gloves on. Let’s talk about the first topic here. And these, again, are myths. So I’m going to state each of these as a myth. And then you guys can pick apart why it’s a myth from your different perspectives.

Trevor Connor 03:37
If it’s a myth.

Chris Case 03:37
If it’s a myth, there you go.

Myth #1: Macronutrients are all that matter

Chris Case 03:40
Macronutrients are all that matter. Who wants to start?

Trevor Connor 03:45
I’ve got to start this one because you are touching on one of my giant soap boxes. It is not about macronutrients. Macronutrients say nothing about the health of the food. When you say ask “Is a high carbohydrate diet healthy or unhealthy?” “Is a low carbohydrate diet healthy or unhealthy?” Well, what are the sources of those carbohydrates? Vegetables are carbohydrate sources and so is fruit. So you can eat a high carbohydrate diet that’s based on fruits and vegetables, which very few people are gonna argue is not a healthy diet. You can also eat a high carbohydrate diet eating a whole lot of Skittles. So I think when we focus on macronutrient ratios, we start to forget about the foods that we are eating. And that often leads people to start eating unhealthy diets but they think they’re healthy because they’re getting the ratio they want to get.

Ryan Kohler 04:40
The fact that I’ve seen on my Facebook feed all these ads for macronutrient diets and meal plans based around macronutrients, that’s always my first red flag to throw it in the garbage.

Chris Case 04:53
If Facebook says it, then stay away from it, right?

Trevor Connor 04:57
I actually wrote an article about this because I overheard a guy who was pretty religious about the keto diet talking about his approach to diet. And he started by going on a rant about fruit and how you should never eat fruit because “that’s got carbohydrates. That’s bad for you, don’t eat that.” And then subsequently went on a rant saying that you should be eating a stick of butter a day. And that, to me, was the ultimate result of somebody just focused on diet based on macronutrients. Nobody who’s well trained in nutritional research is going to tell you avoid fruits like the plague, but eat a stick of butter a day.

Chris Case 05:45
What if you only ate one fruit?

Trevor Connor 05:48
I don’t think that’s particularly healthy either. I don’t think you should eat any one particular food. I think you need diversity. So I’m actually jumping into my other world, so everybody knows I also work with The Paleo Diet®, since we’re talking about nutrition today, that’s probably going to come up a few times. I did a recent interview with a gentleman named Dr. London who is researching the last remaining true hunter gatherer society in the world. And he analyzed their diet and saw they eat a lot of fruit; they have about 90 different varieties that they eat. And they don’t eat all 90 at the same time. They tend to eat them when they’re seasonal. So they’re constantly changing what they’re eating.

Chris Case 06:24
You work with The Paleo Diet, and you mentioned that there isn’t this huge emphasis of macronutrients in The Paleo Diet, so what is the emphasis?

Trevor Connor 06:34
So I did an interview a few years ago with a Dr. Caroline M Apovian, who is the Director of Nutrition and Weight Management Center, at the Boston Medical Center. She also helped create the 2013 dietary guidelines. The reason I was interviewing her was I had heard she’d been quite critical of The Paleo Diet, and I wanted to hear what issue she had. So we’re doing this interview, I’m asking her about different aspects, and she’s saying “Well, I like this about it. I like that about it…” and overall, she seemed fairly supportive. So I finally just had to ask her, what is your criticism here? And just immediantly goes, “You have no macronutrient ratios,” which kind of caught me off guard. So I asked her more about that and she basically said when they were creating the guidelines, they needed a way to compare diets to determine which was a better diet, which was a worst diet. And what they landed on is they needed macronutrient ratios for diets or you couldn’t compare them. You couldn’t do scientific studies comparing them. Which I get you need a point of comparison, but to then, in my opinion, while I have a ton of respect for Dr. Apovian, to say that you now need to judge diets based on a macronutrient ratio, I think you’re getting away from something that’s really important.

Myth #2: Carbs make you fat

Chris Case 08:00
Well, you touched upon something in there about carbohydrates, maybe eating excessive amounts or focusing on a ratio there with a high carbohydrate diet. That sort of leads us to the next myth here that: Carbs make you fat. Is that true, Ryan? Is there any truth to that?

Ryan Kohler 08:20
It’s poor diet choices and too much energy not enough output that makes you fat. This has been investigated a number of times, and many times, it’s when you compare the differences in that. I look at it more as it’s not a specific nutrient that’s going to make you fat. If you eat too much of anything you can gain weight.

Chris Case 08:42
I feel like the myth is that if you eat a bunch of pasta or eat a bunch of bread, and you exercise, then you’ve used the carbohydrates you’ve put in your body so you won’t gain weight. But if you eat a bunch of pasta, eat a bunch of bread or something similar with “high carbohydrates” in it, but you don’t use them, then those carbohydrates get converted into fat and that’s when you put on weight. Let’s disprove that right now. Trevor, talk about the mechanism there?

Trevor Connor 09:17
Well, first of all the comment “carbs get converted to fat” is not quite accurate. There is some conversion back and forth. You can have some conversion of fat to carbohydrates, but I’m not going to go into the whole mechanism there. More of what you see happen is what’s called oxidative priority; that your body prioritizes certain macronutrients over others for fuel and it will always prioritize carbohydrates first. Then fat, then protein. So if you eat a mixed meal, and it has a lot of carbohydrates, your body is going to burn those carbohydrates and if there’s fat in the meal, it’s going to say well, I’m content with the carbohydrates right now, so I’m going to store the fat. So in essence, the carbohydrates are converted to fat, but more, it’s just because you’re using the carbohydrates for fuel, the fat gets stored. So that’s the first one. You hear people all the time using this “Well, it gets converted to fat”, or “This gets converted to carbohydrates”. our body’s ability to interconvert is – there’s some ability but it’s not very good. And most of it is about converting to carbohydrates, which we’re going to address more in the next myth.

Calories in, calories out

Trevor Connor 10:32
The other side of this, were gonna argue a little bit with Ryan, I think. So first of all, I agree. And we have an episode coming up where we’re going to talk about is weight loss and weight gain all about calories in, calories out, so I’m going to give you a preview and give you my bias. Yes, you can’t break the laws of thermodynamics. What is a calorie? Calorie is a measure of energy. We can’t really excrete energy (calories) so we either have to store them or use them. So if you consume more calories than you burn, you have to store those calories. So that’s the short explanation why it’s kind of calories in, calories out. So you can get those calories from almost from any macronutrient and if you over consume calories, it’s going to make you fatter.

Trevor Connor 11:23
However, an important thing to consider is, and I won’t go too much into the technical jargon, fat and protein tend to be satiating. It’s hard to eat a lot of them on their own, while actually carbohydrates tend to spark hunger signals. So it’s one of these vicious cycles where the more carbohydrates you consume the hunger you can get. And you can consume 1000 calories without batting an eyelash. Particularly, and I know some diets have talked about this, when you combine carbohydrates and fat because if you look in nature, they don’t really exist together. You have carbohydrates in fruits and vegetables, which tend not to have a lot of fat and protein. You tend to get your fat and protein from animal sources. So you’re either eating fat and protein together, you’re eating carbohydrates. So when you take something that’s very high in calories, like fat, combine it with carbohydrates, and carbohydrates sparks hunger signals, and – Look at the junk food aisle, everything in the junk food aisle is a combination of carbohydrates and fat – you can put down an extraordinary amount of calories and still be hungry at the end of it.

How to determine the appropriate amount of calories, from any macronutrient, for you to consume

Chris Case 12:40
So Ryan, I don’t know that you are fully on board with the calories in, calories out philosophy here. But if you are, how does somebody go about determining the appropriate amount for them so that they don’t pack on excess amounts of carbohydrates or any other macronutrient and gain weight? How does one determine what they need?

Ryan Kohler 13:04
That’s a great question, and I think we just talked about this recently in our nutrition apps webinar for members, where we looked at methods of figuring out at least what you’re taking in. And that’s certainly one way to do it. If you want to actually go and log [your food intake], you can figure out how much how much is coming in. There’s other methods too like you can go into a lab and test it there and figure out a pretty close expenditure. But one thing that I’ve always found working with athletes in the past is just an easy way of asking are you weight stable? And have you been weight stable? Then we talk about those habits, and the types of foods that typically come in, almost like a very impromptu food frequency sort of questionnaire. We then relate that back to their weight status and those trends over the last three, six, 12 months. It seems like if people are generally weight stable, then they found a good balance. Doesn’t really speak to the quality, but at least gives us a starting point to figure out are you eating enough or are there some deficits there? With athletes in particular, we can dig a little bit deeper and talk about their recovery habits, how they feel as far as preparedness for their training sessions and we can start to get some insights to know if there are any little red flags that get thrown up that make us think maybe we’re not getting enough?

Chris Case 14:24
Yeah, there’s so much more in that presentation you gave on the webinar, so for members, they can check that out online.

Myth #3: Carbs aren’t essential so you don’t need to eat them

Chris Case 14:30
Are we ready to move on to the next myth, I would say this one goes sort of in the opposite direction in terms of carbohydrates, the myth being: Carbs aren’t essential, so you don’t need them.

Ryan Kohler 14:41
If we talk about the essential piece of it, it’s been long known that the brain is a large consumer of carbohydrates. When I think about this essential need, there’s just two things that come to mind: it’s really just that the brain functions well on glucose, it can also function on other substances. As an athlete, one of those things that just helps us to feel functional and good throughout the day, and especially when we’re exercising, is just maintenance of blood sugar. Is it essential? I mean, no, we could argue that there are certainly ways we can we can fuel with other sources, but I know Trevor is going to have a lot more to say on that one I think.

Chris Case 15:23
So Trevor, if I decided I was never going to eat another vegetable, or fruit, or grain or any other source of carbohydrates, would I die? Because essential can mean several things, but if you’re really talking about something being essential, it’s necessary for life.

Trevor Connor 15:45
So actually, there is a proper scientific definition of essential when we’re talking about nutrition. And the short short short answer is carbohydrates are not essential. But it is a longer answer because most people misinterpret what essential means. Can your body survive without carbohydrates? No, your body needs them. But that is not the definition of essential. Essential has two criteria. One is that your body needs it. And the second one, which a lot of people forget about, is can your body produce it itself. Your body might need it, but if your body can produce it itself, then it’s not essential.

Chris Case 16:30
So this goes back to that conversion.

Trevor Connor 16:32
For example, technically, vitamin D is not essential because your body can produce it by sunlight on your skin so you don’t have to consume it. Carbohydrates are the same thing: your body needs them – and we’re gonna have some of the keto people out there, go but wait a minute, you can survive on a keto diet and your brain can survive on ketones – sort of. This goes back to what I was talking about, about the inner conversion. Your body doesn’t do a ton of converting other nutrients to fat or converting other nutrients to protein. What your liver can really upregulate is conversion of other food-stuff to carbohydrates – That’s not the correct scientific term, I’m blanking on the term that I was looking for… So it’s called gluconeogenesis. The liver can take ketones and actually very easily convert them to glucose. So when you are in a ketogenic state, and you talk about your brain survive on ketones, yes, it’s using a lot of ketones for fuel, but it’s also converting a lot of those ketones to glucose to still give your brain some glucose. So you aren’t surviving entirely without glucose, you’re just producing it yourself. Since your body has that ability to produce it, it is not essential.

Glucose, fructose, and galactose

Chris Case 17:48
Stupid question, perhaps, but maybe because people out there aren’t so familiar with all of these terms: carbohydrates and glucose, you’re sort of using them almost interchangeably there.

Trevor Connor 17:59
There’s a whole bunch of different forms of carbohydrates, but it basically breaks down to one of three things: glucose, fructose, or galactose.

Chris Case 18:08

Trevor Connor 18:09

Chris Case 18:09
Sounds outerspace-esc

Trevor Connor 18:12
So it’s one of those three. Glucose and galactose use fairly similar pathways. Fructose is actually transported through the lymphatic system to the liver, it’s not transported through the blood, and then it is entirely processed in the liver. Another really important thing is the pathway, so glycolysis, the breakdown of sugar for fuel is a fairly short process. I think it’s six steps. Glucose starts at the very top and go through all the steps. The rate limiting enzyme and the whole glycolysis process is something called phosphofructokinase, pFk.

Chris Case 18:53
You could really mess that up and turn that into a dirty word fast.

Trevor Connor 18:57
And this is where Chris’s mind goes to.

Trevor Connor 19:00
Phosphofructokinase is the rate limiting enzyme that makes sure you’re not processing too much glucose or ramps up the whole process when you need to break down that glucose. Fructose enters right below pFk, which means when you consume fructose, your body processes it. It has no ability to slow down or speed up that process and this is one of the reasons high fructose corn syrup, and table sugar, which are basically the same ratios, are quite bad for us because you’re consuming more fructose than your body can use and your liver goes well I got to do something with it. I got to process it.

Trevor Connor 19:41
Just to quickly finish that point, most of the conversion is other food-stuff to carbohydrates, but there is some ability to convert back and forth and this is the other way. And this is one of the places you see it; when your liver is faced with too much fructose and has to process it, it tends to convert to either lactate or to fat. And this is why you are starting to see fatty liver disease in children because of the amount of sugar that they are consuming. That’s a disease that up until only a few decades ago, you only saw in middle aged or older people who had alcohol problems.

Myth #4: You should 100% trust food sensitivity tests

Chris Case 20:20
So here’s our next myth, and that is food sensitivity testing is accurate or food sensitivity testing should be heavily relied upon. That’s the myth, is that correct, Ryan? There’s a lot of nuance here, there’s some context that you need to take into consideration when you’re getting the results back from these different tests?

Ryan Kohler 20:42
Right, there’s multiple ways to go about this; one of the most common ones we see out there now is using this marker IGG, or immunoglobulin G. The places that offer this testing, what they’ll do is take a blood sample, look for this marker, and then use that information to say, “Okay, this is elevated so here’s a list of foods that we’re going to recommend you take out of your diet.” And the problem with that is it becomes extremely restrictive. And the reports from one simple test are pages and pages long. So it really just gets into, I think, these very negative habits that make it hard for people to make really small lasting changes. And it just pushes them all the way to the extreme side.

Ryan Kohler 21:31
There’s allergy testing, and there’s legitimate tests for allergies, and IGE is another marker and that’s more commonly used with allergy testing for foods, but it’s also in a bigger picture too. There’s a health history, there’s a physical exam, there’s different food challenges, so it’s a bit more of a process. So when I see, and I see a lot of this on, I guess on Facebook, the news feed, it always comes up there –

Chris Case 21:59
Don’t go on Facebook for information ever again.

Ryan Kohler 22:00
You see this testing, where it’s like, “Hey, do this quick blood sample and you get a report of the foods you’re sensitive to.” But in reality what the IGG is showing is that potentially you may actually have a tolerance to this food, because when you’re exposed to it, it shows that there’s this immune response and that’s the other side of the argument is that it could show actually that there is a tolerance or that yes, you are responsive to this. Is it bad? Not necessarily.

Immunology and your body’s response to food

Trevor Connor 22:24
Basically, my statement is I have not studied food sensitivity tests, so I’m hesitant to give any sort of opinion. This is something Ryan’s looked a lot into. The only things I can share is I have studied immunology a lot, and I can share just some thinking out loud from what I know of immunology. So first talking about what immunoglobulin is, these IGs are something that are released by your B cells, which is part of your adaptive immune system. They identify markers, so they are designed, they evolved, to identify toxins, viruses, bacteria, and they’re highly specific. So one particular IGG molecule is designed to identify one particular virus or one particular thing. And so you have all these different immunoglobulin molecules that just float around your body until they find what they’re looking for. And then they bind to it.

Chris Case 23:26
They’re like little police officers.

Trevor Connor 23:28
I always think of it like the spy movie where you put the little thing underneath the car and you follow the car and you lose the car and sveryone’s like, “Oh, no, we lost it!” You’re like “Don’t worry. I’ve got the marker.”

Chris Case 23:38
The low jack system.

Trevor Connor 23:39
So this is the same thing. This is your body marking it. I’m not going to go too far into the weeds, but IGG in particular works with an innate part of our immune system, which is called the complement system, which basically goes “Hey, IGG is binding to that, we’re going to come over and break down and destroy that virus or whatever it’s identified.” IGG is the most common immunoglobulin in the body.

Trevor Connor 24:04
So why am I telling you all this? The immune system, this belief that it only identifies invaders is really not true. Some of the things that they’ve been discovering is that actually, we are able to identify self, we’re able to identify a lot of things, but it actually takes a lot to activate an immune response. Also, remember that the immune system is designed to identify anything foreign. All food is foreign. So your immune system is always going to have a response, some sort of response to food. But first, you need what’s called an antigen, and the second signal to activate the immune system.

Trevor Connor 24:52
You also have a part of the immune system that’s really regulated by what are called T-regulatory cells, which can also be identify self, can identify a lot of things and go,”Yeah, we know we’ve identified this immune system, seen this, don’t worry about it. Don’t mount a response.” It actually takes a lot of something for the body, for the T-regs to go “Oh, yeah, actually, this is bad. Now let’s do something.”

Trevor Connor 25:18
So the concern here is, and this is where I’m thinking out loud, if you have a test that’s going, do you see any sort of an IGG response to this? Well, all food is foreign, your body responds to everything foreign, and you’re probably going to respond to most things.

Chris Case 25:35
It’s almost like a false positive in a way and that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do, it’s marking for stuff that you would almost anticipate getting a response for.

Trevor Connor 25:44
But the more important question is, is this something that your body sees as bad enough to flip that response and say, we’re gonna go from anergy to an actual response? And my guess is you’d have to see a pretty strong response to a food before the immune system would get – so it’s called the nergic state when it basically says, “Yeah, we see that, we don’t worry.” So I think with most of these foods, your body would just stay in that anergic state.

Chris Case 26:13
Okay, so sounds like these IGGs, or immunoglobulins, of different kinds are very specific so I’m a little puzzled by why you would get back six pages worth of foods that the IGG showed a reaction to so to speak. So what’s the explanation there?

Trevor Connor 26:32
I’m first going to apologize. Any immunologists out there listening to this, I know I’m dramatically oversimplifying, it’s almost impossible to explain immunology in five minutes, in simple terms, so I also know I got some of those things, because of the simplification, wrong.

Trevor Connor 26:47
But IGG is a particular type of immunoglobulin, but inside your body, you’re gonna have millions of different variations on IGG, and each one is designed to seek out one particular marker. I won’t go too deep down this road. but this is actually the proof of evolution because, it’s really cool, when your body discovers a new virus, it brings it to the immune system and then the immune system has this process – and I’ve studied this more in T-cells than I’ve studied an immunoglobulin – but it has this process where it keeps reproducing, but reproducing with an intended mutation. So each new reproduction is slightly different. And it takes that new one and goes, it’s like a lock in a key, it’s literally since it’s a protein, it’s the shape of the protein that binds to the particular marker on the virus. So a new ones born, it goes over and goes, “Okay, how, well do you bind to this virus?” Not very well. Okay, reproduce with a mutation. Now we’re going to take you and try to bind you to the virus, “Ooo that was a little bit better.” Okay, mutate again. And it keeps doing that until it finally gets one that goes, bam, this can identify this virus. Then starts replicating it exactly the same, like crazy, sends it out in the body to take care of all this virus, once you’ve killed the virus, once it’s out of your body, then most of that particular immunoglobin, most of those particular T-cells die out, and your body just keeps a small number of them in case that virus ever comes back again. That’s why the second time you have a virus, you can deal with it so much quicker because you already have those T cells and immunoflobin they can respond to it. So as soon as it responds, it goes okay, reproduce really quickly. It doesn’t have to go through that whole process of constantly mutating until finds one that can identify them.

Trevor Connor 28:40
So the last thing to say is every time you eat there is an immune response. You actually have some inflammation. This is part of the reason having some periods of time when you are in a fasted state is so important because your body has to deal with that inflammation after you eat.

Myth #5: You need fancy race food

Chris Case 28:57
For those of you who are maybe a little lost in immunology speak, let’s turn our attention to something a little simpler and that is Swedish Fish. Swedish Fish are all you need for your rides. Now, before you answer I will sort of give Trevor the benefit of the doubt, I’m going to explain what he meant by that. And that is you don’t need fancy race food or shall I say as a myth, you do need fancy race food. Is that a myth?

Trevor Connor 29:32
When I get asked what should I eat for this race or what should I take on the ride? Swedish Fish are usually in that list, but I’m usually just calling out random pieces of candy and asking people like what candy do you like? Take that. Jelly beans, gummy bears, gummy worms…

Trevor Connor 29:51
The whole history of that episode is we’re on like the ninth recording in three days, it was spontaneous. I didn’t even know we were recording that episode. I was in a lousy mood. We just had all these sports nutrition products on the table and I was asked, “What do you think of these?” And I just went “It’s all crap. Swedish Fish are just as good.” That has been with me ever since. And, like I said, sometimes I just kind of cry about that, but other times I feel like I’m pretty happy about it

Chris Case 30:19
We’ve had discussions where you’ve embraced that. I feel like we’ve had other discussions where you’ve tried to distance yourself from that remark. But there is a little bit more nuance here than just go out, eat Skittles on every ride because there there has to be a balance and the point is, I think, here, the myth is fancy race food is better, by and large than your average Skittle or gummy bear or whatever, which is just a bunch of marketing that they’ve done to make their product look better, but that being said, I don’t think either of you as nutritionists or people with a better understanding of what your body needs that you’re just saying, go out and eat candy all day long because you’re an athlete, right?

Trevor Connor 31:13
I’m not saying Swedish Fish is healthy.

Ryan Kohler 31:16
Right? Right. I like of that.

Trevor Connor 31:19
So what we are saying, I think the better way of expressing this, we also said in that episode, is a lot of your fancy race and ride food is just candy with better marketing. And that I will definitely stand behind. So if you’re going to go that route of I just want the simple sugars, you’re paying a lot of money to not get a lot of additional gains.

Trevor Connor 31:41
Now there are some, this is some of the nuances. We’ve talked before, we had that episode Dr. Jeukendrup about how much carbohydrate can you absorb in an hour. And there’s a particular ratio of glucose to fructose that maximizes your absorption. Most candy doesn’t have that ratio. Most candy is too high and fructose too low in glucose and a lot of candy uses other forms of sugar that don’t absorb as well. So yeah, the fancy race food is probably going to have a slightly better mix of glucose to fructose. That said, I seen some that just use what they call “natural sources”. So they actually kind of hurt themselves because they don’t use a good mix of glucose to fructose.

Planning what you consume during a race

Chris Case 32:31
Ryan, expand on this. What what is your advice to people? I think you half jokingly said “what’s your favorite candy and go with that”, but talk a little bit more about the planning that goes into choosing what you consume during a race.

Ryan Kohler 32:50
What are your likes and dislikes? If I have somebody going out doing Leadville, a bigger bike ride, and they’re gonna be doing 9, 10, 11 hours out there on the bike, there’s absolutely no way that they would be able to eat Swedish Fish the whole time, nor would I recommend that.

Chris Case 33:05
Just would be just Swedish Fish?

Ryan Kohler 33:07
Or sticking to just candy. But let’s figure out what other things do you like. So typically, I’ll have people do like a plan A of like, this is what I love, this is my perfect plan. And then we’ll do a plan B for a backup; what’s available at the aid stations? And also, what other foods, if you don’t have access to plan A, what other foods do we know you can tolerate? So then it’s a matter of figuring out what they can tolerate and continue to eat. And at a certain point, it’s, it’s more about, let’s just keep the energy coming in. And if you’re going to the Columbine Climb and you’re just at the base of it, sure, pop some candy, you’re not going to sit there and eat a sandwich as you’re climbing. So then we sort of periodized the nutrition in relation to the course. And then on the way down, if you get up to the top and you have this long descent, you can slam some food in your mouth, maybe a sandwich, some fruit, something like that at the aid station and you can actually chew that pretty easily while descending. Now that allows you to get in some fats and protein, some different textures, different flavors, that now give you enough variety that when you go back to the sweet, sugary stuff, you’re like, “Oh, this is good. I can still handle it.” So we’re really trying to not hit that sort of taste fatigue, wall.

Chris Case 34:20
Palate fatigue, yeah that is real. Yep. And that can ruin a race. Especially long ones because it almost is inevitable at some point at hour 10+, whether it’s off road, on road, whatever, you’ll hit a place where you’ll say “I just want-” and then fill in the blank with a “real” meal but it’s nowhere to be found. So, I like the idea of interspersing the sweet stuff with the other stuff so that it’s not all in one consecutive block where you might more quickly get fatigued in terms of taste or palate and then not have much recourse.

Ryan Kohler 35:03
Right. Yeah, thinking about where’s the best place to consume? It’s typically the sweet, sugary foods like candies, they’re easy to get in, it’s a quick energy. So then figuring out where on the course, or throughout the day, is a good time to take that versus, whereas another place where you can in more calories and different types of foods. So just trying to adjust the timing based on even just the logistics of getting the food in.

Chris Case 35:28
One thing, I don’t want to harp on the Swedish Fish here Trevor, but I do know that your preference, I think this is a strong preference, is that you procure your Swedish Fish, from Canada, because they use different ingredients up there. A better mix of ingredients. Is that correct?

Trevor Connor 35:52
The primary sugar used up in Canada in a lot of candies is glucose. A lot of the Canadian candies have a more appropriate balance of glucose and fructose.

Chris Case 36:07
So you’re saying your candy is superior in the Great White North.

Trevor Connor 36:13
For performance, yes. Fructose is sweeter; a lot of who companies are really just designing things for craving. And so if you really want to get people addicted, and get as much sweetness as possible, you want to use more fructose.

Chris Case 36:29
That sounds like something an American company would do, but the Canadians are nice for that. We have the sweetest fish and you have the Swedish Fish. See what I did there? Thanks.

Trevor Connor 36:41
That’s that’s the best joke you got today?

Chris Case 36:44
Oh, all my really, really good jokes. The hatchet, our producer, cut out of the show. That was the only one she let slip by. Jerk.

Myth #6: Electrolyte deficiency causes cramping

Chris Case 36:53
Okay. For our next myth, we’re going to dive into something we actually referred to or covered quite a bit in an episode long ago, Episode 26, but it’s worth mentioning again, because it’s such an interesting myth. It has legs to this day, people still believe in it: electrolyte deficiency causes cramping. Boom. Put this myth stamp right on that. Let’s bust it. Who wants to take it?

Trevor Connor 37:21
We did an episode very early on in Fast Talks history on this exact topic. And I would actually recommend checking it out because we interviewed Dr. Schwellnus, who is really the preeminent researcher on cramping in the world. And he developed an alternative theory called the Altered Neuromuscular Control theory. He did several studies, and there’s more than just what he did, where they really weren’t finding a correlation between electrolytes and cramping. And keep in mind, he talks about this in the episode, it’s really hard to study cramps. If you want to study, doing threshold intervals, you bring everybody into your studio and say do threshold intervals, or to your research lab. You can’t bring a bunch of people into the research lab and say, “Okay, have a cramp.” So it tends to be at the end of events, where they know a lot of people are going to cramp, they then immediately get those people after the event and try to figure out a bit of what’s going on. And they did some of that, I’m trying to remember now because this is actually several years ago we did this episode, but they really weren’t finding the athletes who had cramped have any sort of electrolyte deficiency compared to anybody else.

Trevor Connor 38:52
So the short version of the Altered Neuromuscular Control theory is all of our muscles, we have muscle spindles and Golgi tendons. So muscle spindles are responsible for causing muscles to contract and they’re autonomic. So it’s a local contraction. If you want to know what I mean, think about going to the doctor, doctor pulls out that little hammer and hits you right below the kneecap – well the doctors hitting a big cluster of muscle spindles and that causes a contraction, you have no control over it. So Gogi tendons cause a muscle to relax when they’re activated, the muscle just kind of goes “Ah, time to relax.” And one of the beliefs about massage is when you massage you are activating or stimulating the Golgi tendons and that gets the muscle to loosen up.

Trevor Connor 39:46
So in a cramp basically what happens is the excitatory drive from the muscle spindles, I’m actually quoting right out of Dr. Schwellnus’ studies here, gets over stimulated, gets overactive and you see a drop in the inhibitory drive of Golgi tendons. So basically you have this big contraction signal, a lessening of the relaxation signal, normally those two are imbalance, and as a result, the muscle cramps or contracts and stays contract and that’s your cramp.

Why are some people more prone to cramping?

Chris Case 40:24
What, if anything, can you add to this, Ryan in terms of people that are more prone to cramping? Why would that be?

Ryan Kohler 40:34
Yeah, I think we’ve seen this in some of the data that there are people that are prone to it, and it seems like, the more elite you are, the faster you are, the more likely you are to experience cramping. I think that if you’ve cramped before, it’s likely to happen again. You know, there are some factors that predispose you to potentially cramping again. And another factor is that males are more prone to cramping.

Chris Case 41:05
Trevor, are you a cramper?

Trevor Connor 41:07
No. I think I’ve had three cramps my whole life to tell you the honest truth. I’m not one of those who’s prone. One of the biggest causes of this Altered Neuromuscular Control is muscle damage. So, whenever I work with an athlete who is prone to cramping, I tend to find they haven’t developed their endurance, they haven’t developed their fatigue ability or ability to resist fatigue, and so when they go into a race, that’s really hard with lots of intensity, they just break down and that’s when the cramping happens. So what we need to do is just basically build the stamina of their body. One of the best ways to do that is to get them in the weight room.

Do you cramp more when it is hot outside?

Chris Case 41:49
Is this why there’s this association between events that take place in super hot places or at hot times that there would be more cramping because of that? And it’s actually it’s not because of dehydration, it’s because there’s more muscle damage when you’re racing in the heat, and therefore, it could lead to this cramping?

Trevor Connor 42:10
So, I did read a whole study about this. And I can’t remember all the details, but the short version of it is, if you start to dehydrate, muscles are not going to function as well. When the muscle doesn’t function as well, you’re going to start having muscle damage, you’re going to start having some tearing, and that’s what’s causing the cramp. That’s part of the reason people always went “Well it’s electrolytes because like it happens in the heat. So how do you explain that?” Well, when you’re dehydrated, your whole body stops functioning as well. So it makes sense that your muscles are not going to function as well, when your muscles don’t function well, they get damaged.

Trevor Connor 42:47
So the other time that you see cramping being quite common is early in the season. Often athletes will complain about crappy and their first couple raises because they’re just not used to the intensity. And that again, causes damage.

Trevor Connor 43:01
So the one little bit of complexity to add to all this is there is another form – we’re talking about just a single muscle cramp like your hamstring cramps or your calf cramps – there is a type of cramping that’s all body. And there is some relation of electrolytes to that.

Chris Case 43:19
That sounds brutal.

Trevor Connor 43:21
Yeah, doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Also really important to remember that there are forms of cramping that are symptoms of illness, of disease. So if you are experiencing a lot of cramping, it’s good to just get it checked out and make sure.

Chris Case 43:37
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast and be sure to leave us a rating and review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always we’d love your feedback. Join the conversation at to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at and become a part of our education and coaching community. For Ryan Kohler, Trevor Connor, I’m Chris Case, Thanks for listening