Glycogen Depletion Training

Glycogen depletion training is a phrase that I heard from the Great MissZ about a month or so ago.  At the time I thought to myself:  Why would you do this?  Why would you purposely not use carbs to help fuel your workouts and races.  It wasn’t much prior to that message from MissZ that Jeff Irvin said he was going into carbohydrate control so that when he took in the carbs on race day his performance would peak because of the extra energy.

Both of these sounded somewhat absurd to me.  I am of the belief that if we take in carbohydrates on a routine basis that our bodies will be fueled for our workouts.  And by routine I mean eating a diet that consists of 60%-65% carbohydrates and not going for that midnight Snickers bar.  Routine meaning that you are getting your carbs on a consistent basis throughout the day so that you are burning what you need when you need it.


Proper Recovery Will Allow Me To Continue Getting Out For My Workouts.
Source: EAS

After reading MissZ’s report about glycogen depletion training I decided to give it a go.  Last week was my first full week of doing it and I have to say that there was not a loss of performance during the training and maybe even a slight pickup.  The rules I laid out for myself were to have nothing prior to working out and only consume water during the workout.  The key rule though was nothing longer than 2 hours.  If I was going to go longer than two hours than I was going to take in my Prolong/Prepare mix during the workout.  The other rule was on a day with 2 sessions (1 in the morning and 1 at lunch) that I was going to eat lunch 1 hour prior to the workout.  Also, recovery was going to be key to this test.  Without the proper recovery all of this would be for nothing.

After the second day of being on this newly discovered training plan I had lost 4 pounds and could feel myself getting stronger.  Now the change is not the only difference in my training, we also have to take into account the fact that I am getting stronger and faster because of the volume of training I’m doing.  The weight loss coupled with my body learning to use fat as fuel was a spark for me.  It has led me to be able to focus on my efficiency and not worry about the timing of the clock for when to take in a sip.

Here is where the rubber met the road for me.  I decided to take this weekend as a race weekend.  This means that on Thursday night I am doing my big carbohydrate meal followed by a huge breakfast on Friday (1,000 calories of waffles, pancakes and toast) with tapered eating the rest of the day.  Saturday morning consisted of a typical race day breakfast (toast with homemade nut butter, sliced banana and honey along with granola and coconut milk) and then off to ride for 5.5 hours and run for 30 minutes.

The results of the ride were great.  For 5.5 hours I felt terrific and never felt like I was struggling.  This was a training ride so we weren’t going at race pace but I held an easy 18 mph ride in comparison to the week prior where I was around 17 mph.  In the end I rode 90 miles and in 15 minutes faster than the previous week (wind, terrain all play a factor of course) but I felt better.  The 30 minute run afterwards was ‘easy’ as I held 8:30/mi paces for the entire time whereas the week prior I came out at 8:30 but soon slowed down to close to 9:00/mile.

On Sunday I had a 15 mile run with the first mile as a warm-up and the remaining 14 miles at tempo pace.  I ran the first mile in 9:30 and then held 8:15s until the last two miles which ended up closer to 8:30.  I ran the entire 2 hours and 5 minutes with nothing but water and two sticks of Hydrate, which is an electrolyte mix with only 4g of carbs.  I felt good the entire time and never had that feeling of this is just horrible I want it to be over.

This type of glycogen depletion workout has worked for one week and I am doing it again this week to see how my body adapts to using fat as fuel and to make sure that I am recovering properly to enjoy my workouts.

Have You Ever Done This Type Of Training?  What Were Your Results?

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  1. Scott says:

    I am a believer in this training, it teaches your body to use reserve fuel storage and you own fat as fuel, instead of fuel you have consumed. Then on race day, your body will be trained to handle the stress if something goes haywire with your nutrition plan. Honestly, I only train like this in a controlled enviroment, aka the bike trainer or lap pool. So if I hit a serious wall, I know I can safely stop and be in a protected and safe enviroment when I do.

  2. John says:

    I have done this training for Vermont 50 trail run. But I always used diluted sports drink to hydrate. Sipping throughout workouts. As I understand it the body needs a little carb to process the fat as a fuel. I ran the VT 50 for 6 hours with out eating any carbs. At that point I felt I needed them. Also done several marathons on just sports drink. My result was I felt the recovery time was longer. But there is some good data that indicates we do not need as much carb as most athletes consume in training and races. Also temps can play into this factor. Just be careful you do not run yourself to low and end up in the gray area. After trying both methods I personally prefer to fuel as I feel it adds to quicker recovery and causes less stress on body. Best of luck!

  3. Jen says:

    Very interesting. I’m just starting to learn about this too and saw Miss Z’s post too. I have never done this and would have to really investigate how to do this properly. I have to laugh because a few weeks ago someone (I guess was celebrating) his glycogen depletion on Daily Mile and I took it as a request for fueling advice. I’m sure I sounded like an idiot talking to this guy training for his marathon about proper nutrition – ha. OOPS. I meant well.
    Jen recently posted..I’m featured in Health Magazine! Exciting!My Profile

  4. Jeff Irvin says:

    I learned about the glycogen depletion training reading Advanced Marathoning. That book has become my bible for running.

    The biggest benefit I have found is that by training your body to fuel via fat stores it lets you go a little further before the bonk in a marathon. The difference between bonking at mile 24 instead of mile 20 is pretty huge and could me the difference between a good race and a great race.

    For Ironman it may not be as important (but it cannot hurt to do) b/c you are operating in an aerobic zone and should be burning mostly fat anyways AND since IM is like being at a catered luncheon it is much easier to refuel on course.

    Be careful because chances are you’ll keep pushing this a little more and eventually crash and burn while out training and Murphy’s Law dictates that when the crash happens you’ll be the absolute furthest point away from your car/house without nutrition. So carry your cell because you might need to call Karen to come pick you up!
    Jeff Irvin recently posted..Ironman Mont-Tremblant Nutrition and Predicted TimesMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      The long rides are being done with the fuel so as to avoid bonking. Any run 2 hours or longer will have fuel.

      Most of this training is being done on my trainer with runs in the neighborhood so I should be safe.

  5. misszippy says:

    Wait? You value Jeff’s opinion more than mine??? ; )

    I am a believer, as you know. Five long runs down, one all the way up to 20 miles, and it’s clicking for me. The first two weren’t much fun, but it has been smooth sailing ever since. Can’t wait to see how it will pan out for us both!
    misszippy recently posted..I love my rest dayMy Profile


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