Am I Overfueling?

We recently explored the warning signs of low energy availability (LEA) and how to bounce back if you’re suffering from relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S). Any time I share something about underfueling, I get questions from athletes who are worried they’re going too far the other way. If that sounds like you, let’s dive into the issue and suggest some ways you can best match your nutrition with your energy needs. 

How common is overfueling?

Most of the time when my clients aren’t fueling properly, it is due to underfueling, often unintentionally. And as I wrote in our recent RED-S series, it’s often difficult to accurately gauge your energy needs when you’re training hard, meaning that you might actually be underfueling even if you think you’re taking in too many calories. That being said, overfueling still happens – which means we are consuming more energy than our bodies need on a daily basis.

How do I know if I'm overfueling?

If you think you’re consuming too much fuel, there might be some reasons that you believe this. Maybe your body weight or composition isn’t what you want it to be or has recently changed, or maybe you’re struggling to return to what used to be your usual & preferred body composition. Remember there are other factors that impact our weight, like chronic stress, sleep deprivation, hormonal changes, chronically not eating enough, or not eating balanced meals, amongst other factors. 

At times there may be a mismatch between the energy you need and what you’re eating on a daily basis. If you are consuming more than your body needs for daily functioning, exercise & recovery, you might be overfueling. It can be hard to know if we are truly overfueling or not. We may be overfueling if we feel overly full after meals and snacks, excessively snack when we’re not hungry, eating to cope with feelings or other emotions, or over-restricting during the day and eating more than our body needs at night. 

Am I taking too many gels on long runs?

As I’ve written about before, I see more athletes underfueling during runs, rides, swims, and lifting sessions than those who are on the other end of the spectrum. But I have seen a couple of athletes taking in more fuel than their body needed and experiencing negative consequences. This could be because you’ve had a bonking experience in the past, are anxious about getting in enough fuel, or have heard all the new research about fueling more and giving it a whirl without practicing it in training.

While fueling needs vary, I typically recommend getting your first gel down within 30 minutes and then consuming another every half hour. If you’re an elite competitor or a larger athlete, you might need more fuel than this, but taking too many gels may cause performance tanking issues like nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and discomfort. If you need help calculating your gel intake, take a look at my free online calculator, Customized Race Day Fuel & Hydration plan or reach out for a consultation.

Am I eating too much after training?

One of the most common mistakes I see runners and other athletes making is focusing too much on the number of calories they’re burning during training. And focusing on ‘eating back’ all the calories ‘burned’ during a run.

One thing I see athletes do is have a “free for all” mentality on long run/workout days – thinking because they burned x amount of calories, they can eat whatever they want for the rest of the day. However, doing so can make you overshoot your fueling needs, leading to excess calorie intake. I’d rather see my runners focus on spreading out that energy intake pre-run and post-run so that they meet the demands of training and kickstart recovery afterward. Check out my piece on recovery nutrition for runners to see more detailed tips. 

Balancing meals & snacks

Another way that athletes sometimes end up consuming more energy than they need is by grazing throughout the day instead of eating solid meals. Working from home, changes in appetite and busy schedules make grazing very easy. But if you’re constantly snacking, it’s easy to eat more than you need – energy-wise – yet miss the boat on the balance nutrition we get with a planned meal. One way to remedy this is to eat meals that are more filling and better balanced. These should typically contain plenty of protein and carbs. Don’t forget to include some fat, as this is the most calorie-dense macronutrient and will help you stay full for longer. Fiber is another nutrient that will help to keep you satiated between meals. You should feel like you’ve had enough after eating, without being uncomfortable. The same goes for snacks. 

Tips to avoid overfueling:

  • Eat 3 meals per day – balanced with carbs, protein, fat and color. Make sure you are eating enough protein at meals.

  • Include fiber in your meals <except for pre-run meals> to help with satiety.

  • Make sure you nail your recovery meal post-run/workout.

  • Include snacks if your timing between meals is greater than 4 hours or if you are hungry in between meals.

  • Stay hydrated.

  • Reach out to a sports dietitian to evaluate your intake for your current training & help you gain confidence in your fueling plan.

  • Looking to create new habits to improve your nutrition & body composition? The Off-Season Body Composition Program may be the perfect option for you.

Disclaimer: The content in our blog articles provides generalized nutrition guidance. The information above may not apply to everyone. For personalized recommendations, please reach out to your sports dietitian. Individuals who may chose to implement nutrition changes agree that Featherstone Nutrition is not responsible for any injury, damage or loss related to those changes or participation.