Carbohydrates and the Athlete

Nutrition is an important aspect in your performance not only on race day but also during your training. There are lots of opinions and diet fads that go against what every seasoned athlete should know: carbohydrates (the right ones) are good and necessary! It is especially essential for triathlon and marathon athletes to increase their carbohydrate intake while training. There are also misconceptions about the amount of protein an athlete should consume. This often causes athletes to consume too much protein and not enough carbs, which are what your body really needs to fuel itself. Try to use a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Working out seriously depletes your carbohydrate fuel (glycogen) stores. In order to train at your best, these reserves need to be replenished on a daily basis. According to Terry Zeigler, SportsMD.com “for athletes, carbohydrates need to be the highest nutrient source (carbohydrates, protein, and fats) and should make up approximately 65 percent of the athlete’s total dietary intake in a day.”

So, what types of carbohydrates should you eat to maximize effectiveness? Generally carbs with a low to moderate glycemic index are the best (see below), but keep in mind that there are times when an athlete should consume high glycemic index carbs, such as during and immediately post-workout. Let’s focus on the low glycemic rating for training purposes. (We’ll revisit this topic another day with focus on race day and post-workout eating ideas). Some of those foods include:

Here are just a select few examples of foods that fall within the low classification of the glycemic index rating (less than 55):
Cheese tortellini………………..50
Carrots…………………………..49
Oatmeal…………………………48
Grapes…………………………..46
Apple……………………………..38
Grapefruit………………………..25
Cherries…………………………..22

Some examples of foods that fall within the moderate classification of the glycemic index rating (55-70):
Wheat bread…………………..68
Wheat thins……………………67
Cream of Wheat………………66
Cantaloupe……………………..65
Raisins……………………………64
Power bars………………………58
Banana……………………………56

Examples of food classified as having a high glycemic index rating (greater than 70):
Baked potato…………………….85
Pretzels…………………………….83
Graham crackers………………….74
Saltine crackers…………………..74
Honey………………………………73
Bagel……………………………….72
Watermelon………………………72

It is extremely important for athletes to know how and what to fuel their bodies. Of course all of the essential nutrients are important for overall health, but carbohydrates are a must for us endurance athletes. Ultimately, matching your energy intake to your energy expenditure during training is the goal. Failing to meet this energy/calorie need of daily training will result in fatigue, weight loss, and undermine your training program.

Sources:
http://www.sportsmd.com/SportsMD_Articles/id/420/n/food_for_athletes_eating_to_optimize_performance.aspx
http://www.fitsugar.com/Ryan-Halls-Marathon-Race-Diet-20415189?slide=1
http://www.trinewbies.com/tno_wellness/tno_nutritionarticle_13.asp
http://www.powerbar.com/articles/326/improve-your-ironman-triathlon-performance.aspx

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