There are at least a couple modern day diets that swear off carbohydrates as a bane to your health, but this in fact could not be further from the case. While it is true that unused carbohydrates are stored in the body as fat, the main purpose of this nutrient is to be converted into energy-producing compounds that are generally burned for immediate or near-immediate use. This is why athletes and runners have a tendency to load up on meals such as pasta, rice and potatoes before taking to the field or starting that marathon; these foods are packed with carbohydrates that can be used as fuel for the muscles so they have the energy to perform.
With that said, however, there are several foods that are likely better options for runners to resort to when looking for their source of carbohydrates, especially when it comes to maintaining endurance in long-distance races or marathons. The body tends to break down and store carbohydrates as glycogen in your muscles for use when you are ready to begin that race.
However, despite wanting to eat foods that are rich in carbohydrates, Dr. Brian Rapaport warns against eating foods that are also high in fiber (mostly to avoid stomach issues during the middle of the race). He encourages runners to start “carbo-loading” a couple of days in advance and recommends a variety of foods to use for this process.
- Fruits (Bananas, orange juice)
As long as you avoid fruits that are also naturally high in fiber, these sources should supply plenty of glycogen to your muscles. Dr. Rapaport recommends consuming approximately 150 grams of carbohydrates on the morning of race day, and these sources alone supply approximately 50 grams by themselves.
- Grains (Bagels, granola bars, sourdough rolls)
Avoiding processed or refined grains with more complex compounds or sugars for the body to break down, this selection of grains tends to pack a great deal of carbohydrates by themselves. A whole bagel alone provides roughly 70 grams of carbs to your body, nearly half of Dr. Rapaport’s recommended breakfast supply. Granola bars for snacks and sourdough rolls for lunch or dinner also provide a surprising amount of carbohydrates by themselves, nearly 30 and 40 grams respectively.
- Starches (baked potato, burrito with rice)
Dr. Rapaport’s specific plan recommended a chicken burrito that contained rice, corn salsa and black beans, supplementing a dinner with a decent supply of grains and legumes to the meal. The burrito itself offers over 100 grams of carbs! And a baked potato is no slouch either. Add a quarter cup of salsa to it, and you’re peaking at almost 70 grams of carbohydrates with that alone.
- Dairy (yogurt, chocolate milk)
Adding to the immediate pre-race breakfast regiment, yogurt and chocolate milk provide a good amount of carbohydrates as well. 8 ounces of fruit-flavored yogurt can supply your body with over 40 grams of carbohydrates, and chocolate milk – while on the lower end of the spectrum – still grants about 26 grams in just a single cup.
Surprisingly enough, Dr. Rapaport even includes a bit for those with a sweet tooth. An oatmeal cookie at lunch time can supply over 50 grams of carbohydrates if it’s big enough. His specific plan also includes “Swedish Fish” which can provide up to a staggering 148 grams of carbohydrates per 12-piece serving, though Dr. Rapaport recommends a 1-2 ounce bag to suffice.
“Carb-loading” a couple days in advance and incorporating some of these foods into your breakfast the morning of the race, according to his research, will provide your body with ample stored glycogen for your muscles to burn before they need to resort to burning less efficient stores of fat for your marathon. This will give you the best chance to avoid “hitting the wall” and finishing that race.