Create an Effective Energy Plan

Create an Effective Energy Plan

Whether you have a well-planned energy strategy or not can often mean the difference between setting a new personal best, securing a podium position, or hitting the proverbial wall. In previous articles, we've explained why carbohydrates are the most crucial energy source for performance during training and competition. We've also highlighted why an adapted stomach will perform better in a race if it's accustomed to carbohydrates during activity.

But how does one create their personal perfect energy plan?

Creating an Energy Plan

Planning intake, especially when discussions involve liquid volume, grams of carbohydrates, and intensity zones, might seem complicated. But it's not as tricky as you might think.

We will now do our best to provide you with basic tips that you can use in all your races, regardless of distance, goals, and sport. With some basics and simple tips, anyone can create a professional plan. With a well-planned energy strategy, the chances that you'll stick to it increase. Merely relying on hunger, perceived energy levels, and thirst can increase the risk of hitting the wall or stomach issues, especially when you've put in countless training hours. Neglecting your energy intake on race day can be detrimental.

The energy requirement to maintain performance increases with the intensity and duration of the activity. There is a figure (mentioned but not shown) that briefly describes the need for grams of carbohydrates under various intensities and time spans.

To easily create an energy plan, you can ask yourself five questions. After this, you'll effortlessly select exactly what you need in terms of energy to perform at your best in your next race.

Five Questions for an AWESOME Energy Plan

What's the goal of the training/competition?

Is your objective to win or merely finish? Your goal can, to some extent, determine the importance you place on your plan. If your goal is optimal performance, you should always aim to optimize your energy strategy. If, on the other hand, you view the competition as an adventure or a more relaxed experience, you can afford to be a bit more lax. For instance, you might consume more solid food, though this can increase the risk of stomach issues. Having a troubled stomach rarely leads to a fun competition experience. But it's better to discover your limits in a race or training where the goal isn't peak performance, rather than in a top-priority race.

Regardless of the objective, our recommendation is almost always in line with research, aiming for 90g of carbohydrates per hour when the activity lasts more than 90 minutes. To push this further, you should aim as high as possible without upsetting your stomach. For some, the limit might be 70-80g, while others can push up to 100-130g/h. For simplicity, we'll use the recommendation of 90g/h, a dose most can achieve with some training.

How long will you be active?

Okay, now you know your hourly intake. It's time to calculate the total intake. Suppose you're running a marathon in 4 hours: 4x90=360g. So, your total energy intake for the entire race is 360g of carbohydrates. Using these calculations provides a good overview of how much energy you need during the race. This calculation is valid for activities ranging from 90 minutes up to 24-hour ultramarathons. If your event is even longer, while a high carbohydrate intake remains essential, the total energy intake and minimizing the calorie deficit play a bigger role.

Where will the energy come from?

The type of products from which your carbohydrates come depends on factors such as taste, liquid vs. solid energy, what you've tried before, and of course, what you're comfortable with. Rule #1 is never to try something new on race day. If you have preparation time, test the energy sources during training. Another good rule is to have the majority of your energy come from gels or sports drinks. They're easy for the body to absorb, convenient to carry, and offer a clear overview of your intake. Bars and solid foods take longer to digest and can increase the risk of stomach issues. In longer races, bars can be used for taste variety or if you get too hungry. But we don't "need" solid or "regular" food just because the activity lasts over 12 hours.

Also, consider the packaging suitable for your activity: Can you open a bar on the go? Do gels have a screw cap or a pull-tab? Or is it better to transfer them to a soft bottle before starting? An energy plan is effective only if you can actually consume the intended energy even in challenging terrains, technical descents, or while packed closely with other competitors.

What are the conditions and weather for the competition?

Are you participating in a running race, cycling race, triathlon, obstacle course, or something else? The type of competition affects your intake. Running, due to the bouncing, can cause stomach discomfort more easily than cycling. High-intensity events, like criterium races, may not allow much time for drinking. Obstacle courses require the use of both hands, making drinking harder.

The weather is also critical. A high carbohydrate drink may feel sticky in hot weather. In cold weather, gels can be tough to squeeze out. Plan your energy intake accordingly.

One way to simplify your plan is to separate energy intake from fluid intake. If you have, for example, 2 bottles on your bike or 2 soft bottles in your running vest, you can mix one of them with a sports drink. U Sport 1:0.8 is designed to be mixed both strongly and lightly. Let's say you're going to run at a relaxed pace for 3 hours, which amounts to 60g of carbohydrates per hour or 180g of carbohydrates in total. In that case, mix 9 scoops (1 scoop provides 30g of carbohydrates), and you'll have all the energy in one bottle for the entire session. In the other bottle, you can have water and drink according to thirst.

Will you rely solely on the energy stations along the track/road? If so, check out what is being served there and how much you need to consume at these stations to stick to your plan.

When should I start taking in energy and water and how often?
"Little and often" is a good mantra to keep in mind here. Begin the intake of energy after about 20 minutes and try to maintain it around 2-3 times per hour throughout the race. By doing this, you reduce the risk of "traffic congestion" in the intestine and the absorption of carbohydrates is optimized.

Hydration is almost as crucial as energy, sometimes in hot conditions even more important. You should always know where the next water station is located, and you must know your personal hydration needs. Relying on thirst as the primary indicator for drinking works pretty well in most conditions as long as it is not too hot or cold (eg. not below freezing temp and not above 25-30 degrees). In those cases you should consider a planned drinking schedule. Consider your sweat rate, the weather conditions, and the type of sport.
cyclists on a group ride

An effective energy plan requires attention to detail, understanding your body, and adapting your strategy to specific conditions and challenges. Start by asking yourself the five questions above. With a solid plan in place, you can optimize your performance and reduce the risks associated with low energy and dehydration. Remember, every athlete is unique, so what works for one might not work for another. Experiment during training, learn from your experiences, and adjust as needed. Below are three examples of different energy and hydration plans for a 4 h trail running competition on a 22 degree summer day, aiming for an intake of 90g carbs per hour..

Johanna's Sports Drink Plan

Johanna relies solely on sports drinks. She runs with a hydration backpack and mixes a 1.5-liter bladder with 12 scoops of U Sport, which gives 360g of carbohydrates. She drinks this continuously throughout the race. If it gets very hot, she has water in an additional soft bottle.

This plan provides 90g/h over 4 hours.

Simon's Mixed Plan

Simon likes having something to chew on during longer races but doesn't want to risk an upset stomach. He therefore chooses a mixed plan with sports drinks, bars, and gels.

Energy Plan:

2 soft bottles, each 500ml, mixed with 6 scoops of U Sport (3 scoops per bottle, totaling 180g of carbohydrates).
2 U Bars = 50g carbohydrates
3 U Gel 2:1 = 60g carbohydrates
2 U Gel 1:0.8 = 60g carbohydrates
Total intake = 350g


Drinks the sports drink continuously throughout the race.
2 U Bars at 1.5 hours and 3 hours.
U Gel 2:1 at the following times: 30 minutes, 2.5 hours, 3.5 hours.
U Gel 1:0.8 after 1 hour and the other at 3 hours.
This plan provides 87.5g/h over 4 hours.

Elov's Lightweight Plan

Elov doesn't want to carry too much weight in the form of liquid. He opts for an energy plan consisting solely of gels. By pouring the U Gel Bigpack (300ml) into a 500ml soft bottle and mixing the flavors of U Gel 1:0.8, he gets a nice variety of tastes and easy packing. If it gets very hot, he has water in an extra soft bottle.

Energy Plan:

1 soft bottle of 500ml with a whole U Gel Bigpack (180g carbohydrates) + topped up with water until the bottle is full.
6 U Gel 1:0.8 = 180g carbohydrates
Total intake = 360g


Drinks continuously from the soft bottle, which should be finished by the 2-hour mark.
Takes U Gel 1:0.8, 3 between hours 2-3 and 3 between hours 3-4. (Ideally, half of these gels also contain caffeine).
This plan provides 90g/h over 4 hours.