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The Best Carbs for Athletes

Open any popular magazine and you can read the problems with eating carbohydrates. Low carbohydrate diets are recommended for everything from weight management to the treatment of disease. Rather than blaming all carbohydrates, think quality rather than elimination.

Carbohydrate is the gas in the tank for endurance events like a marathon. The intensity and duration of the event dictates the fuel that your body uses. The higher the intensity or duration, the more your fuel source is carbohydrate.

You have trained, tracked your progress and hydrated. Choosing high octane carbohydrates are the finishing touch to your race day preparation. Quality high carbohydrates are those that reach your blood stream slowly and give you sustained energy.

Here are some examples of those high-powered heroes:

  • Whole grain cereal, such as oatmeal
  • Whole grain breads
  • Low fat dairy, especially milk and yogurt
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables

Practice and train with these endurance carbohydrates in order to develop a gut tolerance for these foods. After a hard run or training session recover with faster acting carbohydrates in order to re-load the muscles for the next day’s training. This concept is called nutrient timing and was first developed by the exercise physiologist, John Ivy.

Simply stated, your muscles are the most hungry for food within the first 30 minutes after exercise. However, this is when most athletes tolerate foods the least. Start the recovery process with a sports drink or cold juice and a carbohydrate/protein energy bar. Topping off your tank and refueling are great strategies to improve your performance.