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Nutrition Strategies for Avoiding the Dreaded Bonk

Over the past 30 years, my adventures have taken me through extreme climbing, cycling, mountaineering, running, and triathlon challenges. Each event has been a journey, filled with unforgettable memories and lessons learned. However, some of the most pivotal moments in my endurance career have come from my encounters with nutrition-related challenges—specifically, the dreaded bonk and the consequences of ingesting too many calories while at a high level of intensity. These experiences have taught me invaluable lessons on how to fuel my body effectively. Here, I share my tips to help you avoid bonking and optimize your nutrition strategy during endurance events.

Personal Reflections on Bonking and Nutritional Missteps

Bonking, or hitting the wall, is an experience I wouldn't wish on any athlete. It's a stark reminder of the body's reliance on proper fueling. Similarly, overloading calories, especially under high-intensity conditions, can lead to gastrointestinal distress, hampering performance and overall experience. These scenarios are not just physically demanding but also mentally challenging, pushing you to question your limits and preparedness.

My Tips for Avoiding the Dreaded Bonk

  1. Know Your Body: Understanding how your body responds to different foods and intensities is crucial. Use training as a testing ground to figure out what works best for you, especially for long events.

  2. Balance Is Key: While it's essential to keep feeding your body carbohydrates, balance is crucial. Overeating, especially under high intensity, can lead to stomach issues. Aim for a steady intake of carbs that matches your exertion level.

  3. Tailor Your Nutrition Plan: Customize your nutrition strategy to the specific demands of your event. Climbing, cycling, running, and triathlons each have unique challenges and will require adjustments to your fueling strategy.

  4. Hydration Strategy: Match your fluid intake with your carb intake. Sometimes, bonking symptoms are amplified by dehydration. Additionally, proper hydration aids in the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates.

  5. High-Intensity Caution: Be extra cautious with your intake during high-intensity segments. Your body's ability to digest and absorb nutrients is compromised at high intensity, so scale back on intake and focus on liquids or gels that are easier to digest.

  6. Recovery Nutrition: Don't overlook the significance of post-event nutrition, particularly the first 30 minutes after finishing, known as the "golden window." This period is crucial for replenishing your glycogen stores, especially critical if you have back-to-back event days. Aim for a mix of carbohydrates and protein in a 4:1 ratio to maximize glycogen replenishment and facilitate muscle repair. This strategy not only enhances recovery but also prepares your body for the demands of subsequent challenges, minimizing muscle soreness and optimizing performance. Ensuring you have a recovery snack or drink ready immediately post-event can make a significant difference in your recovery process.

The journey through endurance sports is as much about discovering your physical limits as it is about understanding how to fuel your body effectively. Learning the hard way through experiences of bonking and nutritional missteps has taught me the importance of a well-planned nutrition strategy. By sharing these tips, I hope to help fellow athletes navigate the complexities of fueling for endurance events, ensuring that your memories from these challenges are not just about the hardships but also about the triumphs and the joy of crossing the finish line. Remember, every event is an opportunity to learn more about your body and how to better prepare for the demands of endurance sports.

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