Carbohydrates, stored in the body as glycogen, are the secret to running fast for long periods of time. The function of carbohydrates is to provide an efficient source of fuel compared to protein and fat. Before a long race or workout, runners should ensure that they have enough carbohydrates in the body by “carbo loading.” Here are just a few pointers about how to include carbohydrates in your diet.
Simple carbohydrates, which basically means sugar, are what you could call “bad carbohydrates”. It is true that eating sugar gives you a quick energy boost. However, that boost also wears off in time, and actually swings back the other way to give you a blood sugar low. This low results in a feeling of decreased energy. Foods such as cookies, cakes, candy, and drinks such as soda pop all contain simple carbohydrates.
They are essentially empty foods because they contain no vitamins or minerals, but are high in calories. I’m not saying that you should cut out all simple carbohydrates from your diet, just be aware of them.
Complex Carbohydrates are what we runners should include in great quantities in our diet. Foods such as pasta, cereal, bread, and vegetables are all high in complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take longer to convert to glucose compared to simple carbohydrates, which means that they are a much more steady energy supply. Having enough carbohydrates in the body gives runners enough energy to withstand the rigors of a hard workout or race
Carbo Loading For Short Races
Carbo loading means is eating a lot of food that is high in complex carbohydrates the night before a big race. I personally eat a lot of carbohydrates anyway, but before a big meet I might up my intake a little. Physically, carbo loading won’t do much for a 5k or 10k; those races don’t deplete the level of carbohydrates in your body. However, carbo loading can help a runner mentally in these short races. After eating plenty of carbohydrates the night before a race, I assure myself I’ve done everything I can to run fast, which gives me confidence.
Carbo Loading for Marathons
Even though carbo loading probably is not necessary for shorter races, it is important that you eat foods high in carbohydrates (i.e. pasta) a day or two before a marathon. It is also important that you replenish your glycogen stores during a marathon. The human body can only store enough glycogen for about 18-20 miles of running. After 20 miles, the body begins to burn fat for fuel, which is not as efficient as using glycogen and will really slow you down to a crawl. This why marathon runners “hit the wall” at around 20 miles in a marathon. Therefore, to ensure that your body has glycogen to burn for the entire race, it essential that you down energy gels at miles 10, 15, and 20.
There is some debate about the exact timing of taking gels, but at the very least, a marathon runner should take a gel before he or she hits the “wall stage” at mile 18. It is also important that runners experiment with taking gels during your long runs to practice ingesting them, and and make sure that they don’t upset your stomach or cause other problems.
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