Carbohyrdates for runners
Carbohydrates are the bodies equivalent of petrol for cars. Without them we don't run properly. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex, which relates to the number of molecules in their make up. Simple carbohydrates are basically sugars (glucose and sucrose being two of the commonest), whilst starches make up a lot of the complex carbohydrates.
An index, called the Glycemic Index, has been devised to give us information about how sugary foods are. It is useful as the higher the index the greater the fluctuations in the bloods glucose and insulin levels, which can lead to a condition called hypoglycemia, which is where our blood sugar is very low and we feel very lethargic.
Basically, to avoid this, highly sugary foods shouldn't be consumed between about an hour and 30 minutes before exercise.
Nutritionists also prefer complex carbohydrates because they are better at storing vitamins, minerals and fibre, hence why you may have heard the term that sugars are empty calories.
Carbohydrates are stored in the body in the form of glycogen, both in the liver (which is used primarily for brain function) and in muscles. The muscle glycogen is what is used to power us around our runs. It is the depletion of this fuel (about 1500-2000 calories) which results in "hitting the wall" in a marathon as the body then needs to find other fuels with which to power us. It is the reason why marathon runners need to take on more than just water in a race.
Trained muscles can store more glycogen than untrained ones, part of the reason why trained athletes are better.
Most of the time it is beneficial to consume complex carbohydrates, but during and immediately after training simple ones are better as your body is craving sugar to keep going or start the recovery process. It is then important to try to have a meal containing complex carbohydrates within half an hour of training.
Examples of Carbohydrate Rich Foods
- Basically, this is sugary foods, so includes
- Fruits (particularly dried and very ripe ones)
- Sweet Cereals
- Some types of rice
- Rice - most types
- Skimmed Milk
- Unprocessed Beans
The information here is written by an athletics coach who has read widely into the subject and not a sports nutritionist, so is about gearing your food and drink to the practicalities of running.
- When to Eat
- How to Prepare for Races
- Calorie Requirements
- Losing Weight when Running
- Gaining Muscle Nutrition Advice
- Fluid Intake
- Energy Drinks
- Vitamins and Minerals
- Fish Oils
- Bicarbonate of Soda