How to #GetInTheZone with nutrition

How to #GetInTheZone with nutrition

As part of our continued desire to educate not only our customers, but all athletes on good nutritional practices, and healthy, clean eating options. We have added video content to our multi-media repertoire. Having recently launched our zonal training guide; on this episode of the 32Gi Sport Nutrition podcast, Mark Wolff talks us through how heart rate training and nutrition, are so indispensably linked.




Welcome back to 32Gi Sports Nutrition, I’m Mr Active, David Katz and I hope you’ve been enjoying some of the video content we’re producing now as part of our 32Gi classroom, over the last couple of weeks. A great first episode launched, Part 1 of the 32Gi Story and what a story it is.  A man very closely linked to that story of course, is Mark Wolff. If you haven’t seen that video, I’ll put a link up to it.

But another video that we have launched recently, and this I find very important. Some people miss this aspect of when it comes to training, and training and nutrition. That’s training around your heart zones. It’s something that Mark Wolff has worked very hard on putting together. Mark, it’s an important thing for people, really it is. That you need to understand per zone in what level you’re training at; will affect the way that you sort of, your diet and how you fuel yourself around that session, or that level of activity you’re doing.

The danger of ventricular dilation

Mark Wolff: I think it’s very important Dave. I work with a lot of athletes and I always look at heart rate as a measurement of effort. I have mentioned that in the video as well. Not just from a nutrition point of view, but from a health perspective.

Interestingly enough, and it’s something I didn’t mention previously, but my cardiologist actually works a lot with athletes. Whether they’re Comrades Marathon runners or Ironman athletes and he actually mentioned to me that one of the biggest things that he’s seeing in the industry at the moment; is something called the ventricular dilation. Where the right ventricle actually becomes enlarged because people are overdoing it all the time.

It’s been shown that you do need intensity and quality sessions. But you need to have that in much smaller percentages as far as training goes, a lot smaller percentage. You need to focus on lower heart rate efforts over a longer period of time. Really, we know that those aerobic efforts, especially for endurance athletes play a very critical role. If you take a look at that, that’s just from a training, health and holistic perspective.

But if you take a look at that and you look at nutrition, without a doubt the time and intensity that you’re training for and at, is so critical when it comes to deciding how you’re going to eat. Maybe before, during and after a training session. You need to understand what the recovery will be, how you’re going to fuel during, if you’re going to fuel during.

That plays a very important role and nutrition and time and intensity, they plug together. Those three aspects have to plug together in order to be able to create a proper, healthy environment. From a training and a nutrition perspective.

DK: Mark, looking at the video you put together, and all this research you put into heart rate zones and how you fuel around it. What was the real crux of that, what can people take out of it?

Ask yourself this! What time are you training?

MW: Look, working with athletes, a lot of people say to me: Should I be fuelling during a training session? What should I have before a training session? What should I be having after a training session? My question to them is first of all, what time are you training, because that’s very critical. If you’re training the first thing in the morning, very early in the morning, possibly you might not need to take any pre-training fuel. Again, it depends on the duration of that training session.

If you’re training for 60 minutes or 90 minutes or two hours, it obviously will make a difference. Then also the level of intensity that you’re going to be training at. Generally I look at three levels of intensity. I just break it down and I say: Look, it’s either going to be a low, medium or high level of intensity.

Based on the duration of those three levels of intensity, let’s have a look and see what kind of fuel you should be taking from a recovery perspective. What kind of fuel you should be taking. If you should be taking during training. If you should be taking something before training. Really, the time and intensity will determine those factors.

Just as a simple example and I don’t want to spill all the secrets on this podcast. But as a simple example, if an athlete goes and he has a very, very low intensity session and it’s a sort of shorter session. It might only be 60-90 minutes, even sometimes up to two hours, but it’s very low intensity. A lot of guys will go post-exercise and they’ll just eat a whopping load of carbohydrates. I disagree with that fact.

Why you don’t need carbs doing low intensity

The thing is that you don’t actually need to take in large amounts of carbohydrates post a low intensity session. The reason being is that you really haven’t chewed up anything close to your glycogen stores. You probably haven’t eaten into it much and you really don’t need to try and get your blood sugar up.

You probably are sitting very stable, in more of a fat burn session. So if you just take that as a simple example, low intensity over a certain period of time. That will ultimately determine the kind of macros that you need to look at post-exercise.

If we look at somebody who is performing at a very, very high intensity and it’s for a specific duration of time. They might then introduce a higher carbohydrate meal post-exercise or a recovery shake or maybe even two meals, based on obviously the time and the effort that they put out.

Because they might have actually chewed into their glycogen stores. They also might have quite low blood sugar and we need to try and help recover them as quickly as possible. To me the critical aspect of endurance sport is how rapidly you can recovery between sessions, and recovery is sometimes very often misunderstood.

DK: If you haven’t seen the video, I will put a link up on the website; you can go to or look at our YouTube channel. Mark, looking at intensity in terms of fuel that we utilise. Of course our body utilises glucose and fat. Just briefly talk us through as that intensity rises and the heart rate rises. How that changes from your level of glucose that you’re using versus fat. Almost right up to a maximal heart rate area.

How to fuel for your level of time & intensity

MW: Look, if you look at an average well-trained athlete, generally when somebody is performing at a very low intensity and you’re calling that maybe your zone one to two effort level, which is a percentage of your maximum heart rate. You’ll find that probably the greatest fat burn zones are probably anywhere between, I’d say 40-60% of your maximum heart rate.

The thing is that at those particular levels you’re actually breathing very comfortably, you’re getting a nice amount of oxygen into the system. Of course, if you’re getting a nice amount of oxygen into the system, you are able to utilise fat as a source of fuel. There’s no need to overdo carbohydrate intake, absolutely not.

In actual fact a lot of people do overdo carbohydrate intake in those zones and it’s really, you’re basically saying: I’ve got my own natural energy source, but I don’t want to use those fuel tanks. I’m just going to take an external fuel source and generally that leads to an unhealthy situation and can also lead weight gain, which is a problem.

But it also leads to a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Quite often it actually, it leads to gastro-intestinal distress or GI distress as we call it, because they’re overloading the stomach and there’s absolutely no need to do that. Obviously as you start to increase your pace and start to perform at a much harder rate, your heart rate will climb.

The heart definitely needs to pump more blood around the body, it also needs to cool the body a lot more, so if the body temperature rises, there’s definitely a cooling aspect. Less oxygen comes into the system. It doesn’t mean that you’re not burning fat at higher intensity, it just means you’re burning less fat than you were at a lower intensity.

If you look at your zone three for example, you can still be burning anywhere between 60% fat to 40% glycogen. In some well-trained athletes you might even find that the fat percentage is even a lot higher because they’re so fat efficient. They can burn off a lot more fat at a much higher intensity.

Don’t forget to plan your nutrition as well

In that case you might have to increase your carbohydrate intake slightly over time and you might actually need to take in different fuel sources and also different amounts of fuel sources at that particular time. I always say to people who say to me: How do I know if I’m burning fat?

I say to them quite simply: In zone one and two you can talk pretty effortlessly and zone three, short sentences. In zone four maybe a word or two and zone five, there’s absolutely no talking whatsoever, you’re puffing and panting, it’s such a hard race you can’t get a word out.

If you don’t have a watch in order to be able to guide you from heart rate perspective, then you know you can utilise just listening to your own body. Seeing how comfortable you are during a session, you’ll ultimately know whether you’re in a fat burn zone or not.

Obviously at a very high intensity, you’re chewing up a high percentage of your glycogen stores and that will definitely be your zone four to zone five, a much smaller percentage of fat and in those zones. You ultimately need to feed yourself a much quicker and faster releasing carbohydrate and also maybe a higher calorie product in order to be able to spare as much glycogen as possible.

You can’t spare it indefinitely, but you can spare it for up to a certain amount of time. That just shows you how zones influences the type of nutrition that you’re taking in, which is really critical to understand that. Because based on a particular training session, people plan their routes when they’re training and people plan how fast they’re going to go and how long they’re going to go for. But a lot of times people don’t then say: All right, now let me look at the nutrition and plug that nutrition into that intensity and that period of time, for that particular training session. That’s what’s lacking quite a bit.

DK: For a great visual representation of what Mark has just explained to you, go check out the video, if you haven’t seen it yet. We will put all those links up, but also check out the website,, go to the 32Gi classroom. Also if you have any further questions regarding the topic for Mark, do email and stay tuned.

Next week we’ve got another video launching on Thursday, Part II of the 32Gi history and this one is really important and very motivational. Because it’s about education when it comes to 32Gi and without that education, as Mark has just told us, you aren’t able to understand what you need from a nutritional point of view. 32Gi definitely has your back in this department. Stay tuned to 32Gi, plenty of podcasts and great video content coming your way in the next couple of weeks.