Hitting the wall – and how to avoid it

| All about Sports

How do you avoid sudden fatigue during a ski tour? Read on to find out about hitting the wall and avoiding the “bonk”!

What does “hitting the wall” mean?

“Hitting the wall” is what happens when you experience sudden fatigue during exercise. The term originally comes from cycling, but the phenomenon also occurs during cross-country skiing and ski touring. Reason enough to take a closer look at it!

When you hit the wall, you experience a sudden or gradual drop in performance. The result is the same: You are unable to keep up your dexterity, strength and speed.

Have you heard of the “Mann mit dem Hammer”? In German, hitting the wall is likened to a “man with a hammer” coming after you. 

What causes you to hit the wall?

In short, hitting the wall happens because you run out of stored carbohydrates. Glycogen is a type of carbs that is stored in your muscle cells and liver. When needed, it is broken down into glucose and released into the blood to keep up your blood glucose level. Basically, this fuels each of our movements.

During moderate activity, your glycogen stores usually lasts for about a day. In case of increased activity, your stores might only last for 60 to 90 minutes. The result: low blood sugar levels and fatigue of the central nervous system. And that’s when the “man with the hammer” catches up with you …

What are the typical symptoms of hitting the wall?

When you hit the wall, your body takes the energy it needs from your fat cells. On the one hand, this is an enormous strain for your body. On the other hand, it results in a considerably increased oxygen demand.

This can lead to the following symptoms:

  • headaches
  • heavy legs
  • trembling
  • dizziness
  • disorientation
  • profuse sweating
  • stomach problems
  • loss of concentration

What should you do when you hit the wall?

What helps when you experience the abovementioned symptoms and a drop in performance? The answer to beating the bonk is fast carbohydrate intake, ideally in the form of simple sugars as they are released to the bloodstream very quickly. Typical “remedies” include a sip of coke or a dextrose candy. But there are healthier alternatives …

For instance, eat the following:

  • a banana
  • dried fruit
  • a slice of granary bread
  • a fruit bar or energy bar
  • a sachet of hydrogel or energy gel

Good to know: A sachet of hydrogel provides you with complex, long-chain carbohydrates and about 200 calories. This will keep you going for about 30 minutes at a stable blood glucose level. The little “shots” can easily be consumed on the go.

How can I avoid hitting the wall?

There are different strategies to avoid running out of stored carbohydrates and hitting the wall. For instance, regular endurance training helps because your body gets used to the release of energy sources from fat cells. What’s more, mental training can prepare you for overcoming your drop in performance.

However, the most important aspect is proper nutrition.

Proper nutrition – how to avoid hitting the wall

A healthy and balanced diet is a vital precondition for any kind of sport. We have collected some useful tips for you!

General nutrition facts for ski touring & other mountain sports

  • Packing the right kind of food for your mountain adventure should be a deliberate part of your tour planning.
  • Pack enough snacks you can consume on the go!
  • Choose lightweight packaging that’s easy to transport!
  • Whenever possible, go for regional, sustainable food that’s low in sugar and fat.
  • Avoid raw fruit and vegetables as they are harder to digest!
  • Go for food that contains long-chain carbs. They are easy to digest and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Before your training

Keep in mind that during moderate to high-intensity exercise your body needs about 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Depending on the duration of your training, have a meal that’s rich in carbohydrates about two hours before you start.

During your training

The magic formula? Eat before you’re hungry, and drink before you’re thirsty! Regular intake of good carbohydrates and fluids is vital during your workout. Choose nutrients that your body can absorb quickly.

Perfect snacks for in-between:

  • a slice of bread with jam
  • dried fruit
  • bananas
  • cereal bars or energy bars
  • fruit bars (ideally with 100 % fruit content and no added sugars)
  • hydrogels

Our tip: Listen to your body’s signals and act at the first signs of hitting the wall!

At the summit

Your summit snacks should be rich in high-quality proteins. We recommend …

  • the classic choice: granary bread with a slice of low-fat turkey ham and some vegetables.
  • nuts: They are excellent sources of protein.
  • energy bars that give you energy for the way down.
  • some fruit, for instance a banana.

What should you do if you frequently hit the wall?

If you suffer from regular fatigue during training, this could be a sign of low blood sugar levels, which could be caused by diabetes. We recommend having your blood glucose levels checked by a doctor.

Another reason for hitting the wall often is the wrong kind of nutrition. Fortunately, you know what food to choose for your next ski tour now!

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