I have been doing quite a bit of reading about nutrition for endurance athletes and what it is that we really and truly need. This investigation has been born out of the need to make sure that when I am racing 70.3 California that I am on my game and that nothing will stop me from succeeding at having the race I have been dreaming about.
As you may remember I wrote a post titled Nutritional Breakdown for Endurance Athletes. In that post I suggested that the amount of calories from carbohydrates should be ~65%. In doing further reading I am starting to believe that endurance athletes can get away with ~60% of their calories from carbohydrates.
Why are carbohydrates the largetst portion of calories? It is because carbs are the preferred energy source for your body. Your body’s cells are fueled by a digested carbohydrate (the process is called pyruvate.) This process triggers a chain reaction (called the Krebs cycle) that uses calories for energy. Our bodies do not store carbs readily; we use them and only small stores for emergency use.
As you can see the carb is the energy source for your training and racing. The issue that I face is that I have a belief that I need to take in more than I actually need. Our carb intake not only depends on the fact that I am swimming, running and biking daily but also on the amount of calories that I take in each day. While I track my food, in that I write down each day what I have consumed, I do not track calories. That being said it is almost impossible to deplete our carb storage with training, even a high-intensity session of 3 hours or less. Or course you will still need to refuel during your training/racing but not to the extent that you may believe you have to.
On Saturday I had a terrible run. I spent all day after that run contemplating what went wrong. I came to the conclusion that my error was really two errors. The first was that I did not consume enough water prior to my training. The second is that I did not have a good enough topping of my carb levels either. These two combined to make the run the absolute worst run I have had in a year. Since I was able to analyze what went wrong I woke up on Sunday and had a glass of water and a much smaller breakfast than I have been consuming. I ate 1 teaspoon of sunflower butter on 1/2 a whole wheat thin with 1 teaspoon of dark chocolate chips and a 1/2 banana. I drank water and no coffee. I went to the pool and swam 3450y. After that I went home and had essentially the same thing knowing that I had at least an hour prior to training. I did have coffee but on the ride to the start of the bike I drank 20oz of water. I rode for 3hours30minutes and ran 30minutes with no issues. I felt fresh and restored my carb levels by consuming 223 calories per hour. My run after being on the bike for so long was tremendous. I ran 3.98 miles in30 minutes and felt stronger as the run went on. My run from Saturday is a thing of the past, but I learned from it and will be applying those lessons going forward.
My new theory will be to eat slightly less before training in the morning and make sure that I consume those calories 1 hour prior to the training regardless of intensity. I will also be sure to eat after my training but in less quantities. We have all been at the end of a race and may or may not have felt famished but decided to eat the pizza, bagel, banana, nut bar, and everything else the race organizers were providing. That is a waste of calories for you. Be sure to get your carbs topped off but don’t go overboard. The rule of thumb will be to consume 50% of your bodyweight in grams of carbs.
So what are good carbs? We have all been told about pasta and breads and flour. Don’t eat them they are not good for you….well how about telling us what is good for us in terms of carbs.
Good carbs are found in fiber-rich and high-water content foods. What would constitute those two attributes? How about fruits and vegetables? These foods will slow down the rate that your stomach empties and that will help you feel more content on less food. The healthiest carbs to have before a race are fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Here is a sample list of best-choice carbohydrates:
Vegetables (approx. 25 calories per serving): raw vegetables (1 cup), cooked vegetables (1/2 cup), 1 whole green pepper, 7 stalks of Asparagus cooked or 14 raw, 1/3c of 100% tomatoe or vegetable juice,
Watch your portions because of calories: 1/3c of beans, 1/2c of corn, 1/2c peas or lentils
Carbohydrates are our friends as endurance athletes. The idea or notion that we should eat a low or no carb diet is not a good idea. Actually anything that limits your macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) is not a good idea. We need all three but carbs are actually the most important because they will constitute the largest portion of your calories.
I will be discussing proteins and fats and their importance in future posts. If you have questions before then do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.