News & tips on health, fitness and nutrition

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Glycogen

Glycogen is the form of sugar that is stored in the muscles for quick energy. Not only is this the fuel that gets us started, but it sustains us for the first half hour of exercise. Unfortunately, when this form of sugar is used for exercise, it leaves behind a lot of waste product. Running too fast at the beginning of a workout depletes valuable glycogen as it fills up the muscles and slows them down. This is why many runners don’t feel great during the first few miles of a run. The faster the starting pace, the more uncomfortable they feel. Most of this discomfort can be eliminated with a slow start and more frequent, or longer, early walk breaks – in short, a better warm-up.

The supply of glycogen is very limited, and it is necessary for brain function. A small amount of this “muscle sugar” is burned every mile, even after you’ve shifted primarily into fat-burning. So it’s very important on long runs to conserve this resource by keeping the pace very slow from the beginning. When supplies run low, your “energy control” will hold back enough for your most crucial organ and force a breakdown of fat and protein – a very uncomfortable process. You’ll avoid this negative effect by gradually increasing your distance, by putting in more walk breaks from the beginning, and by running at least three days a week (regularity of exercise).

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