How to Fuel Two-a-Day Workouts

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These days, many of us are over-extended, often juggling family time and a work schedule that leaves little time for long-haul workouts. But that’s where two-a-days come in. While that may sound like a form of torture saved only for pro or collegiate athletes, doubling down on runs can actually help you get in the mileage you want (or need if you’re training for a race), especially when you can take advantage of mornings and evenings with more daylight hours.

Of course, successfully pulling off two-a-day workouts depends on a few factors including nailing your nutrition needs. “Proper fueling during this type of training will help an athlete maintain good health, performance, recovery, hydration status, and reduce the risk for injury and illness,” sports dietitian and Ironman athlete Marni Sumbal, M.S., R.D., author of Essential Sports Nutrition, tells Runner’s World.

But when and how much should you eat throughout the day to accomplish this? The fuel balance can be especially tricky with two-a-day workouts, which are likely putting extra fuel demands on your body with less recovery time than is typical. Survive and thrive on your double days with these nutrition tips so you’re smart about giving your body what it needs.

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1. Plan Ahead

Doubling up your workouts likely won’t afford you much time for meal prep and cooking from scratch. So make sure you have plenty of grab-and-go foods, such as pre-cut fruit or hard-boiled eggs on hand to make fueling easier.

Also, spend a bit of time on down days preparing some meals and snacks in advance. You don’t want to be caught empty-handed on days when you’re pushing extra. Preparing jars of overnight oats, baking up several chicken breasts at once, making a bunch of homemade energy balls or a big batch of pasta or grain salad will allow you to mix and match healthy options throughout the week. Recipes like chili or soup that are equally good as leftovers can be a godsend when tough workouts leave you with the will to only heat something up.

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2. Eat Enough During the Day

Even if an athlete is not training for a specific endurance event, Sumbal cautions that working out twice a day will often result in high energy demands due to high energy expenditure. “With two runs a day, it’s vital that you fuel properly between to ensure you’re recovering and giving yourself sufficient energy through your second run.”

Make sure you are meeting your daily caloric needs, such as adding in an extra snack or serving up a little more pasta at dinner. It’s also necessary to watch out for the signs that you are not adequately fueling that go beyond a growling stomach.

“Although you may feel more tired than usual because of training two times in one day, signs that you are not fueling properly include early fatigue or extreme soreness during your second workout, as well as increased incidents of headaches, nausea, sleepiness, GI issues, low motivation, and moodiness,” Sumbal says.

3. Rise and Dine

how to eat healthy for beginners

Trevor Raab

Often, one run or other workout will occur in the morning. It’s tempting to skip breakfast in favor of the snooze button, but you’ll have far greater stamina and endurance when you run on fuel, not fumes.

“Consuming some carbohydrates before your first workout of the day can help restore liver glycogen after sleeping, which will help with blood sugar control during the workout—meaning better focus, motivation, and execution of the workout,” Sumbal explains.

A recent study in the American Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism determined that compared to exercising in a fasted state, eating breakfast before a morning workout can increase the rate at which carbs are burned for energy, which can translate into improved performance, since carbohydrates are a “faster” fuel than fat.

But it doesn’t have to be a heavy, large meal. You can make do with really quick and light-on-the-stomach options, such as a bowl of yogurt with berries, porridge with sliced banana, or a rice cake with a smear of peanut butter and jam. But after your workout, make sure to have a more substantial meal with a good mix of carbs and protein. Especially so if you are planning another body blast later in the day.

4. Don’t Skimp on Carbs

pasta carbo load

Lakota Gambill

If you don’t focus on eating enough carbohydrates in the hours between your sweat sessions—a scenario that can easily occur when a busy day sets your focus elsewhere—your second workout of the day could be lackluster.

This was played out in a Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study, which found that endurance-trained individuals who consumed a low-carb test drink (0.3 grams of carb per kilogram body mass) every 30 minutes during a four-hour recovery period after a run to exhaustion at 70 percent of their VO2 max performed significantly worse than when they were provided with a high-carbohydrate solution (1.2 grams of carbs per kilogram body weight) in a second run following the initial bout of exercise.

Muscle glycogen concentrations were higher at the end of the recovery period when participants received the high-carb drink, so they could rely more heavily on this energy source to improve exercise capacity.

“Adequate carbohydrate in the muscle, liver, and blood is critical for optimal endurance training,” Sumbal explains. “Therefore, nutritional strategies that optimize carbohydrate availability before, during, and after workouts can improve performance.”

Sumbal says the best way to eat enough is to figure out a general range of carbs to consume for the day based on your activity load. If training for four to five hours in the day, she says carbohydrate needs are 8 to 12 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight daily (3.4 to 5.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight daily). If training for one to three hours a day, she recommends a more modest 6 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight daily (2.7 to 4.5 grams of carbs per pound of bodyweight daily).

“Those carbohydrates should be spread out throughout the day, before and after workouts, as well as in the meals and snacks between the workouts.” Your carbs can hail from a combination of sports drinks, fruits, grains, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.

5. Know How to Time Your Fueling

If either of your daily workouts involves continuous endurance exercise lasting longer than 60 to 90 minutes (think: a long run), it’s a good idea to take in some fuel during the session to help you not only keep pushing the pace, but to also meet overall daily energy needs.

Failing to fuel during a longer bout of activity can result in creating an even bigger daily energy deficit that can lead to issues, such as lower recovery rates. In general, you want to aim to take in between 30 to 90 grams of easily-digested carbs for each hour of endurance exercise, with the precise level varying based on factors like intensity, duration, and your ability to tolerate certain levels of carbohydrates when in motion.

6. Double Down on Recovery Meals

More than one workout a day requires the need for two recovery meals. And remember, your recovery window is narrowed compared to when just working out once daily.

“The recovery nutrition after each workout is critical for restoring muscle and liver glycogen stores, replacing fluid and electrolyte losses, and promoting muscle and tissue recovery, so you are set up to perform better for your next workout,” says Sumbal.

She suggests soon after each workout to take in 15 to 25 grams of protein and 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate along with 16 to 24 ounces of water with electrolytes to accelerate recovery. Research shows that ingesting carbs and protein together can increase muscle glycogen replenishment to a greater extent than just inhaling a bunch of carbs.

You can tweak this based on your type of workout. For a hard, sweat-inducing run, you may want to bump up the carb- and electrolyte-spiked liquid afterward, as this will inevitably put a strain on your carbohydrate energy stores and hydration levels. But if you were lifting weights, then it can be a good idea to prioritize getting some extra protein in your recovery meal or snack. A less taxing activity, like light yoga, won’t require the same levels of carbs and protein.

7. Prepare for Round Two

“Consuming fuel before your second workout can help with all of the same benefits as consuming nutrition before your first workout,” Sumbal advises. She says any foods taken in before your second go-around should be easy-to-digest, thereby lower in fat and fiber.

“Aiming to eat around 50 to 70 grams of carbohydrates and 5 to 10 grams of protein in the 2-hour timeframe before the 2nd workout is advised.” That would be something like a bagel with nut butter and honey, or yogurt with granola and fruit. Then, as you get closer to the run, you could sneak in more simple carbohydrates if needed, such as a ripe banana or dried fruit. As with most instances of training nutrition, this will take some trial and error to suss out what works best for you based on the type of exercise.

8. Stay Hydrated

how to fuel two a day workouts

David Jaewon Oh

You can lose as much as 1 to 2 liters of sweat for every hour you’re pounding the pavement. So, if you don’t adequately rehydrate before your second workout, you’re setting yourself up for a subpar training session.

Research shows that dehydration not only decreases endurance performance directly, but also impacts thermoregulation (a process that allows your body to maintain its core internal temperature), which is problematic if any of your daily workouts take place in steamy conditions.

The upshot is that you want to implement measures to keep your fluid levels topped off. Carrying around a water bottle and sipping from it throughout the day between workouts is a great start. Also, consider how much fluid your consuming from other beverages, including tea and coffee. Ideally, you want to drink to the point where before your second workout, your urine looks more straw or lemonade in color, as opposed to something approaching iced tea.

“If any of your workouts resulted in high amounts of fluid and sodium loss from excessive sweating, then you should consume at least 24 ounces of fluid with at least 400 to 600 mg of sodium as a rehydration beverage shortly after a workout,” Sumbal says. She adds: “The athlete should then consume around 8 to 12 ounces of fluid with their pre-workout snack for each exercise session.”

You can also try weighing yourself before and after the first workout to see how much weight you lost. Then, step on the scale again before your second workout to make sure you are back to your fighting weight. If you have not regained your weight, it’s a sign that you need to drink more between workouts.

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