More carbs! Yup, you heard it here. This summer I am all about increasing the amount of carbs I eat and no, I haven’t gained any weight. Truth is, I’m feeling pretty darn good!
I’m less than 5 weeks away from marathon #7. It’s going be my first marathon in 4 years and the first since having become a certified and registered nutritionist 2 years ago. And yes, I’m starting to get nervous!
In terms of nutrition, however, I’m feeling very confident. The combination of what I’ve learned both through my studies and through my practice has led me to the conclusion that carbs are, indeed, an athlete’s best friend. Most sports nutrition experts recommend that 60%, even up to 70%, of food intake should come from carbohydrates.
Where we tend to go astray is not necessarily in eating too many carbs but in eating the wrong kinds of carbs. And by “wrong” I mean processed white-flour products that tend to be high in sugar and low in nutrient content. They tend to promote inflammation and leave us feeling lethargic, bloated and still hungry. I’m talking pizza, white pasta, bagels, packaged cereals, coffee shop muffins. We are surrounded by them.
It is true that your body’s preferred fuel source is carbohydrates. If you’re feeling a little fuzzy-headed by mid-afternoon (or at the end of a 20 mile run) it’s very possible that your brain is starving. And of course, any physical activity also needs to be fueled by carbs. My focus, for this season, has been to keep my fuel tank and glycogen stores topped up as much as possible. Just not by any of the foods I just listed above.
If you’re not training for a marathon, you probably don’t need to have your carb intake quite as high but it should still account for 45-60% of your food intake. Between the nutrients they provide and the energy they leave behind, here are 5 of my favourite carbs I’ve been enjoying all summer.
I LOVE my sweet potato fries! Packed with both fibre and carbs, sweet potatoes are super satisfying and provide long lasting energy. One cup of mashed sweet potatoes gives you 42 grams of carbs and provides more than twice the amount of potassium of a medium sized banana. High levels of vitamin C plus beta-carotene and anthocyanins provide further anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits. What’s not to love? Truly a superfood and a dinner staple in my household the night before many a long run.
Brown Rice Pasta
For a long time I had stopped eating pasta. It just wasn’t worth how sluggish and bloated I felt after even a small bowl. But what can I say, I am an Italian girl. I wanted pasta back in my life. And to my pleasant surprise, it turns out I love brown rice pasta! A nice big bowl gives me a whopping 70 grams of carbs, with moderate amounts of fibre, protein and iron. Saute some mushrooms, onions and spinach; toss with the pasta and some pesto sauce and you’ve got dinner in a snap. I love to make extra so I’ve got a yummy pasta salad for lunch the next day. No bloating and tons of energy! You’ve got to try it!
Is there any runner out there who doesn’t have a banana in his car or desk on any given day? It almost seems trite but it’s true. We go through a lot of bananas in our household. They sweeten up any smoothie and are easy to grab when you’re dashing out the door. Most people find them easy to digest, which makes them an ideal pre-workout snack. Added bonus: they are a rich source of fructooligosaccharides, a prebiotic compound which feeds the probiotics (friendly bacteria) in our colon. This supports healthy digestion and elimination which makes for happy runners. Eating a medium sized banana gives you 25-30 grams of energy-enhancing carbs.
Another favourite among runners, a big bowl of good old fashioned oatmeal is a perfect pre-long run breakfast. I like to add some walnuts for added protein plus some blueberries and maple syrup (or honey) for added yum. Also easy to digest and super high in soluble fibre, oatmeal helps keep cholesterol levels down. Heart healthy and long lasting energy…..it’s so worth the 20 minutes it takes to cook in the morning. 1 cup of cooked oatmeal provides 30 grams of carbs but who eats just one cup? My serving size plus the added goodies gives me closer to 60 grams. That’s how I want to fuel up before a 20 mile run.
People often forget how rich in nutrients beans and legumes are. They are an excellent source of fibre, protein and carbs….truly another perfect food. They help regulate blood sugar, provide protective cardiovascular benefits and are very high in anti-inflammatory compounds. Ideal food for any athlete and so many ways to enjoy them: chili, soup, in a salad or as a dip. One cup = 40 grams of complex carbs. So good and so good for you!
It was kind of hard to come up with this list of 5…..I left off so many other great foods I’ve been enjoying all summer. Quinoa, beets, Medjool dates, raisins, cherries, sprouted grain bread, just to name a few. All of these foods are rich in carbs and, with the exception of the sprouted grain bread, they are all gluten-free.
So many options to keep you fuelled up and on the path to peak performance.
Did I leave any out? What are your favourite carbs?