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Carbs for Athletes

Lisa Bentley and Katie Mazzia

Vail Health's registered dietician Katie Mazzia and clinicical dietician Lisa Bentley, share carbohydrate tips for bikers and runners. 
Although carbohydrates often get a bad rap, Katie Mazzia points out that they are the power house of fuel for runners; a healthy diet consists of 45-60% of calories from carbohydrates. If you're running races, it's important to choose the best foods to refuel, decrease inflammation and repair your muscles for the next workout! On average, a female runner might consume 250gm total carbohydrates for the day while a male may require 350gm. 
Where do carbohydrates come from? Natural sources include fruits, milk, yogurt, starches (rice, pasta, polenta, quinoa, bread, crackers etc.), starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potatoes, beans/lentils etc.). Other sources of carb are added sugars like honey, maple syrup, cane sugar, agave, brown sugar, coconut sugar which should be kept to a minimum.
The best carbohydrates for runners:
Before a run (30-45 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Lower fiber carb choices that digest quick such as cereal (ex. cheerios), yogurt, small granola bar, oatmeal, watermelon, cantaloupe, banana, grapes, soy milk. 
After a run (60-75 grams of carbohydrate)
  • Colorful fruits high in antioxidants such as berries, cherries, apricots, peaches, Acai juice or frozen pulp for a smoothie, higher fiber cereal or fruited Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of ground flax or chia seeds, nutrition bar, crackers with hummus, protein shake with fruit and 20gm protein etc. 
All Meals (60-75 gm carbohydrate per meal)
  • Select natural sources of high fiber carbohydrate foods at all your meals! Breakfast: try corn tortillas, whole grain bread, cereals, fruit (dried fruit without added sugars). Lunch/Dinner: sweet potatoes, beans/lentils, whole grains with at least 3gm fiber per serving--(i.e. mini-whole wheat bagel or bread, , black bean chips, corn chips, popcorn, crackers, whole wheat tortilla etc.). Tip: If you love salads with a protein add 1/3 cup beans, dried or fresh fruit, or even leftover rice, potatoes or other grains. 

Nutrition is vital for maintaining the energy you need for your bike rides this summer! Lisa Bentley indicates that carbohydrates are our main source of energy during exercise. It is important to have snacks readily available during rides lasting more than one hour, as our long-term energy stores, glycogen, can be depleted after 1-2 hours of intensive exercise. 
Keep these things in mind before packing your snacks:
  • Portability. Choose something with easy access while on the trails.
  • Schedule. Try taking a small bite and drink every 15-20 minutes. If you are riding for more than 3 hours, try eating more solid foods at the beginning of your ride, as digestion may slow.
  • Quantity. Be prepared. Pack more than enough! According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), about 30-60g of carbohydrate per hour is recommended to maintain a continuous supply of glucose for rides lasting over 1 hour. 
  • Hydration. Water is optimum hydration for rides lasting less than 1 hour. If your ride is over an hour or you sweat excessively, consider a sports drink in addition to water. 
Snacks to pack:
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This old-time favorite is a great mix of carbs, fat and protein and easy to divide into bite-size portions.  
  • Bananas. Great source of carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  
  • Homemade trail mix. Be sure to include dried fruit.
  • Energy bar. Choose one with nuts, fruits and whole grains.
  • Portable yogurt or fruit pouches. Easy and convenient source of quick energy. 
Additional nutrition articles can be found here