top of page

Tempo Zone 3 Nutrition

A deep dive into nutrition for Tempo


When you embark on the journey of tempo zone three cycling, operating at 80-90% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), you're entering a critical domain where the nuances of nutrition play a pivotal role in your performance and recovery. This zone is a fascinating blend of endurance and intensity, where your body's fueling strategies are pushed to adapt, signaling a shift in how energy is sourced and utilized during your rides.

In the lower intensity spectrums, your body predominantly relies on fat as the primary fuel source. This fat-burning zone is where endurance athletes often spend considerable time, harnessing the vast energy reserves from fat to fuel long, steady efforts. However, as you dial up the intensity to the upper echelons of tempo zone three, the physiological demands of your efforts instigate a significant shift in energy dynamics.

At this heightened level of exertion, closer to 90% of your FTP, your body begins to demand energy at a rate that fat metabolism alone cannot sustain. It's here that glycogen—stored carbohydrates in your muscles and liver—comes into the spotlight. Glycogen becomes increasingly crucial as a rapid energy source, capable of supporting high-intensity work without the slow release of energy that fat provides.

This shift does not completely sideline fat as a fuel source, but rather, you begin to witness a more balanced energy pull between glycogen and fat. The energy supply to your working muscles starts to resemble a closer 50/50 split between these two fuel sources, a stark contrast to the predominantly fat-fueled efforts at lower intensities. This balanced utilization is critical for sustaining your performance throughout tempo zone three efforts, where the right mix of endurance and power is essential.

Understanding this shift is crucial for tailoring your nutritional strategy to meet the demands of tempo zone three cycling. Prior to your rides, ensuring that your glycogen stores are optimally filled becomes a priority. Consuming a diet rich in complex carbohydrates in the days leading up to your ride can help maximize these stores. However, the timing and type of nutrition don't stop there. During your ride, especially as you approach or maintain efforts at 80-90% of your FTP, the intake of easily digestible carbohydrates can support sustained energy levels, helping to replenish the glycogen that's rapidly being consumed.

Post-ride nutrition also takes on heightened importance in recovery and preparation for future efforts. Aiming for a mix of carbohydrates and protein shortly after your ride supports muscle repair and glycogen replenishment, setting the stage for effective recovery and readiness for the next challenge.

In essence, as you navigate the upper tempo zones, your nutritional approach must be as dynamic as the energy systems at play. Recognizing the shift from a predominantly fat-fueled endurance effort to balanced glycogen and fat utilization is key. Tailoring your nutrition to these demands—before, during, and after your rides—will not only support your performance but also enhance your recovery and overall cycling experience in tempo zone three.

As we delve deeper into the science of nutrition for fueling your tempo zone three efforts, we're going to focus on the cornerstone of high-intensity energy production: the glycolytic process. This intricate biochemical pathway is pivotal in supporting your endeavors as you push through to 80-90% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP), where the blend of endurance and power begins to heavily rely on the rapid conversion of glucose to energy.

At its core, the glycolytic process is your body's way of breaking down glucose—either directly from your bloodstream or from the glycogen stored in your muscles and liver—into a form of energy that your muscles can use. This breakdown happens in the absence of oxygen (anaerobic glycolysis) and in the presence of oxygen (aerobic glycolysis), but for tempo zone three efforts, we're particularly interested in how this process functions under aerobic conditions.

The Science of Glycolysis

Glycolysis is a series of ten enzymatically driven reactions that convert glucose into pyruvate. In the presence of oxygen, pyruvate is then further processed in the mitochondria to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the primary energy currency of your cells, through a process known as oxidative phosphorylation. The efficiency and speed at which ATP can be regenerated through these processes are crucial for sustaining your tempo zone three efforts.

Physiology and Energy Production

When you're working at 80-90% of your FTP, your body's demand for ATP increases significantly. The glycolytic pathway ramps up to meet this demand, breaking down stored glycogen into glucose and then further into pyruvate, generating ATP at a rapid pace. This ATP provides the immediate energy needed for muscle contraction, allowing you to maintain your tempo pace.

However, this increased reliance on glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation has physiological implications. The rapid use of glycogen stores means that maintaining these energy levels requires a steady supply of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen before, during, and after your efforts. Additionally, the process of breaking down glucose and glycogen produces byproducts such as lactate. At moderate intensities, your body can efficiently clear and utilize lactate as a fuel source, but as intensity increases, lactate accumulation can contribute to fatigue, highlighting the importance of training and nutrition strategies to manage lactate levels.

Nutritional Implications

Understanding the glycolytic process's role in energy production for tempo zone three efforts underscores the importance of carbohydrate intake. Prioritizing carbohydrates in your diet ensures that your glycogen stores are adequately stocked, allowing your body to quickly mobilize the glucose needed for glycolysis. Consuming carbohydrates during longer or particularly intense sessions can also help sustain your energy levels and delay the onset of fatigue.

Moreover, post-exercise nutrition becomes critical for recovery. A combination of carbohydrates and protein helps replenish depleted glycogen stores and repair muscle tissue, facilitating recovery and preparation for your next training session.

In essence, the glycolytic process is a fundamental component of your body's energy production during tempo zone three cycling. By understanding and supporting this biochemical pathway through strategic nutrition—focusing on adequate carbohydrate intake and recovery—you can optimize your performance, endurance, and overall cycling experience in this challenging zone.

As you continue to explore the complexities of fueling for tempo zone three efforts, it's essential to understand why, even as the glycolytic process takes center stage, your body also taps into fat as a crucial energy source. This dual-fuel approach ensures that you can sustain your performance through the challenging pace of 80-90% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). The process of using fat for energy, known as fat oxidation, plays a pivotal role in this energy strategy.

Understanding Fat Oxidation

Fat oxidation is the process by which your body breaks down fat stores into fatty acids, which are then transported to your muscles to be converted into ATP, the energy currency your muscles need for contraction. This process occurs predominantly in the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, where fatty acids undergo beta-oxidation to form acetyl-CoA, which then enters the citric acid cycle (TCA cycle) and ultimately leads to the production of ATP through oxidative phosphorylation.

The Role of Fat in Tempo Zone Three

While tempo zone (especially upper) efforts rely on carbohydrates for quick energy, fat oxidation provides a significant energy reserve that complements glycogen utilization. This is especially important as your glycogen stores begin to deplete during prolonged or particularly intense efforts within this zone. By also utilizing fat as fuel, your body can conserve glycogen stores, delay fatigue, and maintain a high level of performance for a more extended period.

The ability to efficiently oxidize fat as a fuel source is influenced by several factors, including your training state, diet, and the duration and intensity of exercise. Regular training at varying intensities, including tempo zone three, can enhance your body's ability to oxidize fat by increasing mitochondrial density and enzyme activity involved in the fat oxidation process. This adaptation allows for a more effective and efficient energy production system, capable of sustaining longer periods of high-intensity effort.

Nutritional Implications for Fat Oxidation

To support fat oxidation alongside glycolysis during your tempo zone three efforts, it's crucial to include healthy fats in your diet. Consuming a balanced intake of fats, particularly unsaturated fats found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and oily fish, can help ensure that your body has the necessary fatty acid substrates for fat oxidation.

Furthermore, timing your nutrient intake can also impact the balance between carbohydrate and fat utilization. For example, consuming a meal rich in carbohydrates a few hours before your tempo zone three effort can help top off glycogen stores for immediate use, while the inclusion of fats in your diet supports the longer-term energy needs through fat oxidation.

Integrating Fat and Carbohydrate Utilization

In the context of tempo zone three cycling, your body's ability to seamlessly switch between carbohydrates and fats as energy sources is crucial for maintaining optimal performance. This metabolic flexibility ensures that you can sustain the high intensity required in this zone while efficiently managing your energy reserves.

As an athlete pushing the limits in tempo zone three, mastering the art of fueling before, during, and after your rides is not just a matter of preference but a critical component of your performance, recovery, and overall success. The science behind optimal fueling practices underscores the importance of providing your body with the right nutrients at the right times to support the intense demands placed upon it during these high effort sessions.

Fueling Before Your Ride

Initiating your ride with a well-fueled body is essential for maximizing performance, especially when engaging in tempo zone three efforts. Consuming a meal or snack rich in complex carbohydrates 2-3 hours before your ride ensures that your glycogen stores are topped off, providing the immediate energy needed for the onset of activity. This pre-ride meal should be low in fiber and fat to minimize gastrointestinal discomfort and facilitate gastric emptying. I will continue to talk more in-depth about this coming up...

Scientific Insight: The ingestion of carbohydrates increases blood glucose levels, which in turn, boosts glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. This is crucial for high-intensity efforts, as glycogen is the most accessible energy source for your muscles, supporting sustained performance throughout your ride.

Fueling During Your Ride

Maintaining energy levels during your tempo zone three workouts is vital to prevent fatigue and maintain intensity. For rides lasting longer than an hour, consuming easily digestible carbohydrates, such as energy gels, chews, or sports drinks, can help sustain performance. ill dive a bit into more grams and direction soon...

Scientific Insight: During prolonged exercise, the body relies on both glycogen and blood glucose for energy. Regular intake of carbohydrates helps maintain blood glucose levels, delaying the onset of fatigue and allowing for sustained effort at the desired intensity.

Fueling After Your Ride

Recovery nutrition is key to replenishing depleted energy stores and facilitating muscle repair. Within 30 minutes to an hour post-ride, consume a meal or snack that includes a combination of carbohydrates and protein. we will get into the ratios soon...

Scientific Insight: Post-exercise, your body is in an enhanced state of recovery, often referred to as the "anabolic window." During this period, the muscles are particularly receptive to nutrients, and insulin sensitivity is heightened. Consuming the right blend of nutrients facilitates rapid glycogen resynthesis and protein synthesis, aiding in muscle repair and growth, reducing soreness, and speeding up recovery.

The Importance of Hydration

Hydration plays a crucial role in your fueling strategy, impacting both performance and recovery. Dehydration can lead to decreased blood volume, reduced skin blood flow, higher core temperature, and, ultimately, impaired performance. Aim to start your ride well-hydrated and consume fluids regularly throughout your effort, adjusting based on temperature, humidity, and sweat rate.

The science behind fueling for tempo zone three efforts highlights the need for a strategic approach to nutrition that supports the body's energy demands, enhances recovery, and optimizes performance. By carefully planning your pre-ride, during-ride, and post-ride nutrition, you empower your body to perform at its peak, recover more efficiently, and prepare for the next challenge. Remember, nutrition is as much a part of your training as the miles you log on the bike. Treat it with the same attention and respect to see significant improvements in your cycling performance and overall health.

Fueling your body correctly before, during, and after tempo zone three rides is essential for optimizing performance and recovery. Let's break down some practical examples of what to eat and how much, keeping in mind the nuances of occasionally incorporating fasted rides into your training regimen.

Before Your Ride

Goal: Top off glycogen stores and ensure you have enough energy to sustain your effort.

- 2-3 Hours Before: Aim for a meal with 1-4 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. For an 80 kg athlete, this translates to 80-320 grams of carbohydrates.


  Example Meal: A large bowl of oatmeal (75g of carbs) with a banana (27g of carbs), a slice of whole grain toast with jam (30g of carbs), and a glass of orange juice with pulp for extra fiber (26g of carbs).

During Your Ride

Goal: Maintain energy levels and prevent glycogen depletion.

- Every Hour: Consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates.


  Example Snacks: A medium-sized sports gel (25g of carbs) plus a small bottle of sports drink (20-30g of carbs) every hour.

After Your Ride

Goal: Replenish glycogen stores and initiate muscle repair.

- Within 30-60 Minutes Post-Ride: Aim for a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, approximately 1.2g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight and 0.3g of protein per kg of body weight for an 80 kg athlete, this means around 96 grams of carbohydrates and 24 grams of protein.


  Example Meal: A smoothie made with a banana (27g of carbs), berries (20g of carbs), a scoop of whey protein (20g of protein), and a cup of almond milk. Pair with a bagel (50g of carbs) to hit your carb needs.

The Role of Fasted Rides

Incorporating fasted rides into your training can offer benefits, such as improved metabolic efficiency and fat oxidation. However, these should be done judiciously and not as a staple, especially not for high-intensity efforts like tempo zone three rides. Fasted training might be more suited to low-intensity, endurance sessions and should not be a daily practice. The key is balance and listening to your body; always ensure you're well-fueled for the demands of more intense sessions to avoid negative impacts on performance and recovery.

Remember: Fasted rides are occasionally beneficial but proceed with caution. For tempo zone three efforts, prioritize being well-fueled to ensure you're performing at your best and can recover effectively. Please reach out to me for more info on that and we will for sure chat more about how to implement fasted rides to benefit you, but for now, let's try to stay fueled and have fasted rides for endurance and low-tempo days.

I always love to use…

If you are starving after your ride, then you have underfueled. If you are content and not searching the refrigerator for anything and everything, you have done a good job with fueling, or if you did a fasted ride, you stayed at the right zone. 

By following these guidelines and adjusting based on your individual needs and responses, you'll support your body's energy requirements, optimize performance, and enhance recovery across your cycling endeavors. Remember, nutrition is deeply personal, and what works best can vary from one athlete to another. Pay attention to how your body responds and adjust your fueling strategies accordingly to find what best supports your training and performance goals.

12 views0 comments


bottom of page