Today’s Reason: Carbs

Cavemen Didn't Eat Croutons

Hubby and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary yesterday but now that I turn into a pumpkin after 8pm due to my marathon training, the only plan we made for our celebration was to stay home, order some comfort food, and watch some good television- and we did just that!  As it was a special occasion, I made sure my dinner consisted solely of 3 out of  the 4 major carb groups: pasta, bread, and croutons.  The 4th being french fries, of course.

I ate it and I'm not ashamed

I was concerned that such a late night, heavy, 10,000 calorie meal would weigh me down going into my 6am spin class this morning but, on the contrary, I felt very strong, very motivated, and very fast, all thanks to that King of Saccharides, the Carbohydrate.

As everyone in the free world already knows, carbs have gotten a lot of bad press in the past decade hence the birth of the Atkins Diet, and recently, the Paleo Diet– “bad carbs” and “good carbs”, oh my.  While Atkins focuses on lower carbohydrate intake, Paleo is all about eating pre-agricultural foods (if you can’t kill it or grow it, you shouldn’t eat it).  The Paleo Diet only includes whole Stone Age foods– meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables- and even in the absence of breads, pastas, beans, potatoes, etc., the Paleo Diet can still be high or low carb.

On the other hand, the Atkins Diet includes processed grains and sugars, as long as they are low-carb and low-carb only, as well as the use of Splenda and other chemically enhanced foods.  For example, salad dressing and mayonnaise would be okay on Atkin’s but not on Paleo.  So, one can be Paleo AND Atkins, but you can be paleo and not be Atkins.

When it comes to carbohydrates and running, I’ve learned that I really need them.  Both of them.  “Good” carbs AND “bad” carbs.  Bring ’em ALL on.

Normally, I eat as many whole grain complex carbs as I can.  Simple carbs are basically sugars that are absorbed and used by the body very quickly, whereas complex carbs (cereal/pasta/bread and vegetables) are absorbed slowly into your system and provide a steady energy supply called glycogen, the fuel needed for running.  Luckily, for us runners, both types of carbs serve a purpose.

The 2 days preceding a long run, I make an effort to up my intake of whole grain carbs because they provide that slow-burning energy I’ll need when running those double digits.  However, the morning of, as well as during a long run- when my energy stores are running low- I take in simple, fast-acting carbs that immediately turn into glucose giving me a Super Boost of energy.  So yes, I will eat a white-flour bagel or white-flour waffle in the morning, and then jellybeans or my new favorite sports gel during the run. Then after the run, in order to restock glycogen stores, I make sure to have a mix of slow and fast burning carbs, such as a whole-wheat bagel and a banana.

Now, I am not an expert in this field (I just play one on my blog) and I realize that this in not AT ALL the path to weight loss- I am not the size of a Barbie and I am only ingesting both types of carbs because my mileage is increasing and my body requires that fuel.  Everything in moderation!  And after the marathon, the white-flour foods will be banned, once again, from my grocery cart.  (But I sure am relishing in white rice & pasta, pizza, plain bagels, and white bread in the meantime!)

How do you handle your carb intake?  Do you focus on both types or change it up, like me?  What do you eat the night before and the morning of a long run or race?  What do you eat after?

science is yummy

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8 thoughts on “Today’s Reason: Carbs

  1. I totally agree. Carbs are essential to all of our physiological processes. It’s the moderation part that most people don’t get. I would never be able to cut carbs from my diet, and I don’t see why I should. All of these fad diets are insane to me.
    After a long run, I crave smoothies, so I guess my body wants to replenish its fast carbs. When I ran a half marathon, I could actually FEEL the sugar leaving my body and that I was going into glucose depletion. It was crazy. I think we should all just listen to our bodies!

    • When I listen to my body, it says, “Feed me carbs.” As my runs get longer, I am learning more and more how important that glucose is for my endurance and mental fortitude- as the sugar leaves, the yearn to quit arrives.

  2. Agree with you and Jen. I try to emphasize whole grains and fruits and vegetables, but have no problem with white rice, pasta, baguettes, and desserts…in moderation, which like Jen says, is key.
    The night before long runs, I try to eat a carb-rich meal that isn’t too huge, rich, or spicy, so that I won’t have tummy issues the next morning. I think I favor “white” carbs not just because they break down in time to be useful, but also because the extra fiber of whole grain is a detriment to the ol’ digestion while bouncing around on my feet. I generally do pasta before half marathons (before my first one I had swordfish and mashed potatoes. Horrible. Fishy aftertaste while running=disaster), but the night before my first-and-so-far-only full marathon I had Bake Sale Betty’s chicken pot pie, which worked out great. At least as much of a priority goes into drinking at least 10 cups of water the day before and avoiding alcohol.
    The day of races, and during races, I’m still looking for my groove. I like yogurt, bananas and white toast with jelly pre-race. During the race…honestly the only time I’ve ever eaten mid-race was the marathon, where I cautiously popped a gu at mile 18. I didn’t throw it up, and I finished the race…so…good? But I can’t say I noticed an energy boost from it. It may have been too late. I’m experimenting with gels more now that I have more running clothes with pockets.
    After…I like sugary stuff (makes sense), especially candy :). But I try to be moderate and keep in mind the amount of calories I actually burned in the race.

  3. Carbs are good. Carbs are great. For me, portion control is probably the single biggest challenge. My philosophy is that everything that is “good for you” must taste good too. Lentils, quinoa, barley seem to be good sources of carbs where that is concern. I have also taken to making muffins, pancakes, waffles, bread and the like with almond and coconut flours to reduce our intake of refined carbs. The result is a protein and fiber rich foods that is lower in carbs and dare I say…more nutritionally balanced. Will let you know how this holds up after my 1st double digit race 🙂

    • For me, the goal is to utilize the “bad” carbs when my body needs them and to increase my “good” carb intake overall while in training, not to lower. After the marathon, I will return to my low-and-whole-grain-carb ways but right now, bring ’em on!

  4. I like the idea of reducing all the overly processed crap. Get rid of carbs? Nah, I need them. And I need cookies too sometimes. I just have to keep everything in moderation. After the race I need huge amounts of protein (aka Whole chicken at Big Sur Race). Before race…still struggling with this, usually toast with almond butter and a bit of honey. This depends on how early the race is. I do the Gu thing during the race usually at mile 6 and 10 and lots of water. The days leading up to the race, lots of water, lots of protein, pasta and/or rice. My best pre-race meal was BBQ ribs and rice.

    • I’m finding that before a 10 miles or longer run, taking in 300-500 calories is key to my endurance- 2 packets of oatmeal with milk, a banana, and as much of a whole food bar I can push down after that. I always feel full, but also very energized.

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