My top 10 carbohydrates for endurance athletes includes some unique choices
Improper diet in the months, weeks, and days leading up to a major endurance event like a marathon or Ironman triathlon can have a negative impact on your enjoyment, results, and recovery from the race.
Don’t be confused by simple and complex carbohydrates. As a general rule simple carbohydrates like most fruits, chocolate products, pastries, soft drinks, and even many sports gels are loaded with sugar and do very little for enhancing your endurance.
They may supply a burst of short-lived energy but sugar-laden simple carbohydrates will often lead to a sugar crash and sudden weakness. That’s the last thing you need when it comes to your weekly training and particularly on race day.
If you are racing an Ironman, it’s best to take along some sort of complex carbohydrate as your major solid food choice and supplement it with gels that are used in a secondary fashion to provide short bursts of energy that will help you get through some challenging spots in your race, like hills for instance.
However always supplement the gels with complex carbs to avoid a sugar crash that could result from taking in too many simple carbohydrates.
It’s the fire of premium fats that burn clean burning complex carbohydrates that will fuel you to the finish line of your next race.
It’s simply not enough to load up on carbohydrates in the days leading up to your event.
Adopting better eating habits months before your major endurance event and sticking with them is the key to going into your race as prepared as possible as far as being properly fueled.
Here are the top 10 Carbohydrates for endurance athletes
Of course pasta has been the mainstay of endurance athletes for decades, but it should be included into your weekly menu long before race day and not just part of your carbo loading the week of the race.
Be sure to include whole wheat pasta into some of your weekly menu choices. White pasta is a good source of complex carbohydrates but whole wheat contains more natural nutrients.
A better choice for a topping is a simple canned tomato sauce with no frills.
A cup of tomato sauce contains a quarter of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A and fulfills half of your daily need for vitamin C. Tomatoes are also naturally rich in the antioxidant lycopene.
In order to create white rice the outside hull and bran is polished off. This process strips rice of it’s natural benefits that include fiber, proteins, thiamine, potassium, and magnesium.
The fiber in brown rice is important for proper digestion and for also maintaining a healthy weight.
Sometimes white rice will be labeled as enriched and often this means that it has unnatural additives.
WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
All that is left after the processing of white flour from the wheat berry that resembles the whole wheat version is the starch that is in between the bran outer layer and the germ inner layer.
As a result, whole wheat flour products like buns and bread contain not just the starch, but the wheat bran and wheat germ as well.
This makes whole wheat bread much more rich in fiber, vitamins B6 and E, magnesium, zinc, chromium, and folic acid.
A bread that has a brown appearance does not necessarily mean it originates from whole wheat. Sometimes a coloring like caramel is added to give it a brown appearance. Check the label and ensure that the first ingredient listed is whole wheat.
I just have to add that my food of choice for an Ironman Triathlon was two or three whole wheat bagels with peanut butter and honey. I cut them in half and put each in their own separate baggie for ease of use.
To me this provided a good balance of complex carbohydrate(the bagel), simple carbohydrate(the honey), and protein and fat(the peanut butter).
I had my best ever Ironman results using this combination as my food of choice.
They also fit easily into the pockets of a cycling jersey.
Oatmeal is an excellent choice for a complex carbohydrate as it provides a very high level of fiber and proteins that are essential to athletic endurance performance.
Oatmeal is also gluten free safe, removes bad cholesterol and protects against heart disease and cancer.
This should be your number one choice for breakfast during your training and the days leading up to your big race.
If you walk down the cereal aisle of a supermarket you can virtually ignore 99% of the choices displayed if you are after optimum athletic endurance performance. None of the 99% fall into the list of top ten carbohydrates for endurance athletes.
The only optimum choices you should make are oatmeal(listed above as first choice)Wheat Puffs, Rice Puffs, Shredded Wheat and Shreddies.
All you have to do is look at any cereal ingredients list. Almost all the ingredients lists on cerals start with sugar and salt in the top five or even top three ingredients.
The cereal choices I suggested will have one major item listed as ingredients. Oats, wheat, or rice. Nowhere on that list will you find sugar or salt.
BANANAS AND BERRIES
Bananas contain fructose and although that in itself might not spike insulin levels I have always treated bananas as a simple carbohydrate(like berries)and when in training always ate them along with a complex carbohydrate.
A great example and the way I used berries and bananas almost exclusively when training for an endurance event was when added to one of the complex carbohydrate cereals I mentioned.
For instance, oatmeal in itself might seem boring, but if you add slices of bananas or/and whole berries or chopped apple it makes for a very wholesome and great tasting breakfast. Berries, apples, and bananas work well with any of the top choice cereals I mentioned even though they border on being a simple carbohydrate.
Bananas are great to take on those long bike training rides but be sure to take along a source of protein and complex carbohydrate for balance.
Many replacement drinks are laced with simple sugar and ultimately not great choices for endurance races that will last over two hours or especially for an Ironman that can be up to 17 hours long.
Look for fuels that provide the complex carbohydrates maltodextrins or glucose polymers exclusively without simple sugar used as carbohydrate source.
Hammer Nutrition is a liquid fuel supplement that could well be one of the best choices on the market for endurance athletes and deserves consideration as one of the top 10 carbohydrates for endurance athletes.
Potatoes are the vegetable king of complex carbohydrates.
They are perhaps the purest form of carbohydrate you can eat.
They tend to be assimilated by the body very quickly and if you choose to eat large amounts they are best eaten with some form of protein to stem the rapid assimilation.
For example if you went for a long run and then had a large helping of potatoes in any form without any accompanying protein there is a good chance that within about an hour you would become quite dizzy and weak.
That’s how quickly the starch from potatoes can be assimilated into your body. Any negative effect can be easily avoided by simply including some protein along with the potatoes.
Historically potatoes are usually eaten as a side dish with foods containing protein.
For instance steak and potatoes, roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, or hash browns with bacon and eggs.
I remember a pro triathlete once writing……”If they weren’t so bulky I would take about four baked potatoes along as fuel for an Ironman.”
Maybe not a bad idea, but I would certainly temper the rapid assimilation of potato-based carbohydrates by taking along some protein bars or other protein source.
I believe beans are often overlooked when it comes to adding complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber to a training diet. Beans qualify for all three in spades.
Personally I always found boiling raw beans time consuming. Although they come without the sodium you find in the canned variety I always chose canned baked beans or black beans over the raw ones as they were simply more convenient.
I realize that the average can of baked beans contains sugar and sodium, but I feel that the 11 grams of fiber, 14 grams of protein, and especially the 50 grams or complex carbohydrates per one cup serving far outweigh any negative impact of the sugar and sodium.
Canned black beans or kidney beans are also very high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein.
If canned beans are used on occasion in your diet it will enable you to add some variety to your meals.
Canned kidney beans can be used in chile and black beans are an excellent addition to salads. Simply rinse a quarter cup of canned black beans, drain, and add to your tossed salad.
Ugali is a staple of Kenyan endurance runners. It’s hard to argue about the benefits of Ugali considering the multitude of world records Kenyan runners hold or have held in the 10k, half-marathon, and marathon.
Ugali is a staple starch with corn(Maize)as the main ingredient.
It’s similar in consistency to oatmeal(porridge). Much like starchy potatoes, Ugali is often eaten with a protein source like meat(stew), kale, or spinach.
The calorie breakdown is particularly intriguing.
It is 83% carbohydrate, 10% fat, and 7% protein. It’s also an excellent source of fiber.
For something uniquely different I added Ugali to my list of top 10 carbohydrates for endurance athletes.