In my favorite episode of The Office, the company is holding a 5K run for rabies. In one scene, Michael Scott is stuffing his face with a plate of fettuccine alfredo. He is “carbo-loading” about five minutes before the race. Later in the show, he is shown getting sick and can’t finish the race. Yes, carbo-loading is a real thing…just not done the way Michael did it.
Many new runners may be intimidated with the term, carbo-loading. All the low carb diet fads can make anyone feel like all carbohydrates are bad. Well, all carbohydrates are not bad and actually our bodies need them for energy.
The USDA new dietary guidelines suggest eating 6 ounces of carbohydrates per day. That is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Among those 6 ounces, half or 3 ounces should consist of whole grains. The whole grain contains B vitamins, iron, magnesium, selenium and fiber. Don’t be fooled…check the labels. Make sure it says whole grain.
Carbohydrates are the top choice for fuel and the best energy source for working muscles. Runners require more than the average in their diets, especially in the days leading up to a marathon or endurance race. Choose ones like whole wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, brown rice, and air-popped popcorn.
How do you choose healthy carbs? Look for ones with high fiber. The more fiber it has, the more slowly it will be digested and the more nutrient-dense the food will be. Whole grains and whole fruits offer slow burning energy. These are best eaten the days before and the morning of a big run. During a race, go for quick-burning carbs like jelly beans or sports gels to get a quick burst of energy. Within an hour after the run, it’s a good idea to get a mixture of slow and fast-burning carbs such as a bagel and a banana. A glass of low-fat chocolate milk post-run is a great alternative to a sugary sports drink. It offers the perfect carbohydrate/protein combination to replenish spent glycogen stores.
You may think that just because you are a runner you have a pass to eat endless amounts of bread and pasta. But the key to truly utilizing the energy benefits of carbohydrates is all in choosing the right ones. And skip the fettuccini alfredo!