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How Much Water is Released by Glycogen 'Burning'?

Last updated 2014-08-03 - Send Feedback
Related: glycogen, training

Legal disclaimer: Since we are not doctors, never follow anything based on health-related or training topics on this or related sites without first consulting with your doctor or other trusted health professional.

The use of glycogen by muscles for energy (“‘burning” glycogen) releases quite a bit of water. Fat burning does also, to a lesser extent.

It is one reason that going into a hard ride with full muscle glycogen stores can delay dehydration, and why calculated fluid-intake needs are at variance with actual dehydration effects, an effect repeatedly observed and documented by your author on 3-4 hour rides: the weight vs hydration variance was puzzling.

The effect is very significant. For example on 6 ascents of Old La Honda, I consumed 184 grams of Hammer gel, but with the hard efforts, my muscles probably burned off at least 200 grams (800 calories) which would have released 3 X 200 = 600 grams of water, or 1.3 pounds (1.3 pints) of water!

According to

  • Each gram of glycogen is stored with 3 grams of water, so filling glycogen stores with an additional 300-500 grams should lead to a weight gain of up to 2 kg. Don't worry—most of this additional weight is water, and will actually be helpful during the ride.
  • Glycogen supercompensation, or carbohydrate loading, helps prolong endurance in events lasting over two hours. Estimates are that it can move the wall about 20% farther down the road.
  • Taper your training during the week before the event, ending with either a rest day or an easy spin. This will allow dietary carbohydrate to be stored as muscle glycogen rather than being used as a fuel for cycling.
  • In conjunction with backing off the mileage, you need to increase carbohydrate intake for the last 3-4 days of the week—aim for 8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight.

I (Lloyd) rely on this and have to compensate for this water-release with glycogen burning for double centuries. See also Nutrition for a Double Century.

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Matthew C writes:

This is definitely true. It's also the reason we rapidly lose weight in the first few week or so when dieting, and especially when doing a low-carb diet.

After the initial depletion of glycogen stores (and hence water) the weight loss tapers off to a pound or so per week. Glycogen stores are rapidly depleted, along with water.

WIND: makes sense. A neat trick used by companies selling immediate results on diet plans—no real gains, but feels good.

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