Carbohydrates or carbs have been a part of a strong foundation that fuels endurance athlete’s results, but will any old carbs work? Lets talk this week about the important role Carbs play in day-to-day and sports fueling. If you remember on the last feed I talked about how Creatine is the most researched sports supplement? Well carbohydrates, hydration and electrolytes are the most researched aspect of sports nutrition!
So before we dive in to this edition of The Feed I have a couple of notes to share with you.
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OK… Lets jump in and cover what is going to be discussed today.
- What is a carbohydrate?
- Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs
- Carbs for training
- Carbs for daily nutrition
- Fueling Strategies
What is a carbohydrate?
In sports nutrition the term carbohydrate often means any food that is particularly rich in complex carbohydrates or simple carbohydrates. So carbohydrates are sugars or saccharides that are processed by the body to create glucose and stored as glycogen.
Glycogen is stored primarily within muscles as well as the kidneys and brain. Glycogen stored in the muscles and glucose circulating throughout the bloodstream is what most athletes rely on for energy but glycogen stored within the kidneys may be tapped for reserves. When the brain’s stores of glycogen are tapped for additional energy this is where bonk occurs.
A healthy body will regulate glucose levels by using the hormones insulin and glucagon, which are produced by the pancreas.
Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs
Carbohydrates are broken into two categories, simple and complex. Simple carbs are made from one or two sugars, like fructose or glucose and will cause spikes in insulin when consumed. Complex carbohydrates are made from more than two sugar molecules and take longer to break down in your body, so you end up with a slower insulin response.
So to keep it simple in my head, I just remember that Simple Carbs are what we consume for sports and Complex Carbs are what we consume for daily nutrition.
Great Carbs for training
- Natural Complex Carbs
- Pre Training
- Brown Rice
- Greek Yogurt
- Steel Cut Oats
- Whole Grain Breads
- Whole Wheat Pastas
- Baked Potato
- In Training
- Dried Fruits
- Sports Specific Carb Powders
- What about Natural alternatives to Carb Powders?
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Organic Maple Syrup
- Raw Organic Honey
- Blackstrap Molasses
- Nut Butters
- Pre Training
Great Carbs for Daily nutrition
- Sweet Potatoes
- Oat Bran Cereal
- Brown and Regular Rice
- Whole grain cereals
- Whole Grain and Regular Pasta
- Baked Potatoes
- Sandwich breads, bagels, pita bread, English muffins
- Leafy Greens
- String Beans
- Bell Peppers
- Brussels Sprouts
Lastly when selecting natural, organic, healthy foods for daily nutrition remember to put an emphasis on Fruits and Vegetables and consume lean meats. When selecting fruits the brighter the colors the better and when selecting vegetables put a focus on less starchy vegetables and lean hard on leafy greens. When selecting lean meats remember the less legs the better.
Fueling Strategies For Athletes
When I say fueling strategies I mean what you consume for your sports activity. While it’s impossible on one show to tell all endurance athletes how to fuel for every possible sport or circumstance the following guidance will help most of you. If you need specific guidance Coach Kelli or I can help you to develop your own race day strategies.
One gram of carbohydrate contains approximately 4 kilocalories and the human body typically can handle 60 grams of crabs from one carb source but if you combine 2 sources such and Maltodextrin and Fructose you might be able to consume as much ad 80-90 grams an hour. So 320-360 kilocalories is what you can theoretically consume in one hour.
The two major sites of glycogen storage are the liver and skeletal muscle. The concentration of glycogen is higher in the liver than in muscle (10% versus 2% by weight), but more glycogen is stored in skeletal muscle overall because of its much greater mass.
If you are an endurance athlete of any caliber and you are “going long” you may eventually experience glycogen depletion. Glycogen depletion is where almost all of your glycogen stores are depleted after long periods of exertion without sufficient carbohydrate fueling. Glycogen depletion is also known as the dreaded “Bonk” or “Hitting the Wall”.
Glycogen depletion can be mitigated in 3 ways. 1. Implementing a slow drip method of fueling with simple carbohydrates while exercising. Exercising meaning training riding, running racing… 2. Utilizing endurance training protocols of fasted low intensity training primarily in the off-season and used sparingly in the race season. These “easy” fasted training days can condition type I muscle fibers to improve both fuel use efficiency and workload capacity to increase the percentage of fatty acids used as fuel sparing carbohydrate use from all sources. 3. By consuming large quantities of carbohydrates directly after depleting stores in an effort to Over Load stores before a big race or event. This process is known as Carbo-Loading.
My favorite implementation is the slow drip and fasted riding. A quick note on fasted training: Fasted training shouldn’t be attempted every day! I am not a believer in “becoming a fat adapted” athlete. I do however believe strongly that riding fasted 2-3 times a week in the off season and no more than once a week in the race season helps to focus the athlete on not working harder than necessary on easy or endurance days. Going harder will tap into glycogen reserves quickly and end your long ride plans quickly.
In the slow drip I mix a sports drink consisting of an ounce of organic lemon juice (fructose source), a scoop of Maltodextrin and a teaspoon of honey or a scoop of dextrose. I will also add Electrolytes in the form of GU Brew Tabs, a pinch of sea salt and maybe some amino acids, such as beta alanine, glutamine and Acetyl L-Carnitine. A 24 Oz bottle of this mix is approx. 200-300 calories.
I set my Garmin alerts to every 5 minutes to remind myself it’s time to take a sip off the bottle. I try to finish a 24oz bottle of this sports drink in 1-1.25 hours.
Depending on how long I ride I will take gels and or dried fruit with me to capture an additional 200-300 calories an hour for a total of 400-600 calories an hour.
I find that gels are great on shorter more intense training sessions such as interval-based rides lasting from 1.25-3 hours and interval based runs lasting 30 minutes to over an hour. I will take a mix of real food and gels on longer tempo rides and or runs as I find some days I can stomach real food and other days I simply can’t tand there isn’t always any rhyme or reason for this. I do find that on super hot long training days lasting 3+ hours that I will need gels or gel like alternatives mentioned earlier in the show.
When it comes to real food I have eaten all sorts of things from fruit right off a tree, thanks to our MTB guide in Costa Rica for that experience, to nuts, seeds, dried fruit and primarily bananas. Usually by September I don’t want to see another banana again until May!
So lets lay out a fueling schedule of a hard workout lasting longer than 1.25 hours. This same guidance will work for big event and or races.
Eat 3 hours before the big workout, event or race. Utilize Complex Carbs and easy to digest proteins Complex Carbs. This will be the only “meal” before the race!
Start sipping water from a sport bottle once every 10 minutes to keep hydration levels topped off. You will do this until the big event, workout or race 2.5 hours later.
30 minutes before the big event, workout or race take on one gel or tablespoon of sports gel alternative.
Sip from the sports bottle every 5 minutes during the big event, workout or race
Take on a gel or gel alternative or real food every 20-30 minutes after the first 30 minutes have passed.
Once the big event, workout or race is complete you have an optimal window of approx. 20-30 minutes for optimal uptake of carbohydrates to replenish glycogen. It is believed that uptake can be made to happen even faster if your recover fuel is accompanied by caffeine. I cannot find any studies proving this. However sometimes anecdotal experience is worth considering, case in point. You wouldn’t believe how many cases of cokes I saw when cameras would pass over the service course of various Tour de France busses this year! This doesn’t mean I am telling you to drink a caffeinated soft drink after your workout and expect that this alone will help you to recover as it wont. I typically will drink the following afterwards. I will mix 6oz of 2% Milk, one scoop of Whey Concentrate with a tablespoon of Cocoa powder or chocolate syrup or honey as my recovery mix. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I really enjoy a Coke, Pepsi or Jones Cola after a really hard workout or race! Just try to make sure that your caffeinated soft drink of choice uses real can sugar and not HFCS.
There you have it! I hope this helps you with your fueling strategies. I know that like many athletes I work with the real answer is that it depends. So remember when I give guidance I try to give what I know that works but your mileage may vary!
Join us again next week as I talk about HIIT training as it pertains to a recent athlete consultation from Australia.
Music for show intro, outro, and mid-play break: “Jahzzar (betterwithmusic.com) CC BY-SA”
Intro and Outro music: So Easy on the Travelers Guide album from Jahzzar
Mid-play break music: Please Listen Carefully from the Tumbling Dishes Like Old-Man’s Wishes Album