Carbohydrates are not your Enemy!

Carbohydrates are not your Enemy!  This week we hear from Celia Innerearity, a 40+ sub-4 hour marathoner, who learned the importance of proper nutrition when she had her mid-life crisis:

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CeliaI had my mid life crisis when I turned forty. For some people, this crisis can lead them into a dark place. In my experience, it spurred me to be the fittest I have ever been! When I realised that my life was not how I envisioned it would be at forty, that dark cave was looming. For the sake of preserving my sanity, I needed a major diversion. This came in the form of training for a Marathon. It is full on commitment for about four months that definitely gets you fit! I was in the gym 2 days, running three days, plus throwing in a yoga session every week. I was on top of the world feeling fit and fabulous to welcome forty versus retreating to that cave not knowing when I would ever be able to get out.

To manage my body’s new found energy needs, it meant I had I to get my nutrition right. But where to start? It’s a mine field of information and everybody’s way is “The Right Way!” As a student Nutritionist, I had to pull out all I had learnt about sports nutrition and put it into practice. I quickly realised that was the only way it was actually going to happen! If endurance sport/activities are your chosen way of escape – let me share 2 very important lessons I learnt:

  1. Carbohydrates (carbs) are not the Enemy!
  2. We are not the same as your average sedentary Joe or Josephine! We need energy.

Distance runners burn a lot of energy. According to the Harvard Health Publication we can torch over 300 calories running for just 30 minutes! Throw in some hills and we burn even more. Studies also show that one of the best ways of ensuring optimal performance is the consumption of carbs and fluids during endurance events.

Carbs are the body’s preferred fuel source, versus fats and protein. While fats do give lots of energy, which we need in endurance events, the system that breaks them down is not as quick as that for carbs. We get into the fat burning zone only after our stored carbs are depleted; on average about 20 – 30 minutes into moderate aerobic exercise. Additionally, we need protein primarily for the building and repair of tissues. This is important for endurance athletes as we do a lot of breaking down of tissues through the repetitive activities which cause stress to our muscles.

That said, not all carbs are created equal. I don’t want to get into “good versus bad carbs”, but some are better choices and not just for runners. We should go for whole foods, or the less processed carbs. Complex carbs give us the fibre that our bodies need to keep our digestive system healthy. Additionally, timing when you eat is as important as what you eat.

Master Sports Nutritionist and Executive Director of Jamaica Island Nutrition Network Patricia Thompson says: the most common pitfall of Jamaican athletes is that they will eat lunch at say 12.00 noon and commence training or competition at [around] 4.00 p.m. without a ‘top-up’ (same as carbohydrate supplementation) without realising that this is considered a ‘fasted state’ (meal intervals of 4 hours or longer). They run out of fuel towards the end of training or competition and this reflects in their poor performance.  Mainly affected are the footballers, netballers and distance event athletes rather than sprinters, whose event is very short”.

During training, I scheduled my meal times to coincide with my workouts. In the morning, I would wake up approximately an hour earlier in order to have my pre-run snack. Heavy meals were eaten about 4 hours prior and a snack 1 – 2 hours before evening sessions. Recovery meals were a must, within an hour after training. This ensured that I had enough stamina to last the entire work-out and replaced my energy stores after each session. I found that using this regimen, I didn’t feel as tired and run down as when I first started my training.

You probably have heard of the Glycemic Index (GI). “What really is that”? I hear your ask. In plain English, I hear you say. Carbohydrate foods have been given a scientifically derived rating (0 – 100) that tells us how fast they turn into sugar in our bodies; low GI are those rated 55 and below and high GI are 70 and above. With some exceptions, the more processed foods are higher GI and those with more fibre and some fat are lower. It is helpful when choosing the foods to eat pre, during and post exercise to maximise performance and recovery. Ideally you want to consume foods that will release energy slowly during your workout, and that won’t cause gastro-intestinal disturbance. Nobody wants their workout interrupted by having to run to the toilet. That equates to a horrible run, and Runners hate that.

There is new research on the horizon regarding the usefulness of the carbohydrate mouthwash for improving performance. It has been tested with cyclists to complete time trials to determine the improvement, if any, in their performance. As confounding as it sounds to us mere mortals, apparently, Scientists say, it improves exercise performance by activating a different region of the brain believed to be involved with reward and motor control. This versus actual consumption, absorption and energy production by burning of ingested carbs. However, it does not seem to be as effective in endurance exercise i.e. lasting over an hour. It’s early days yet, so watch this space for more exciting updates.

Finally… we also have to put in the work. For some it is easier as they have that genetic advantage, but consistency pays off. Question – have you seen a Kenyan run? Graceful and effortless are words that spring to mind; regardless, they work hard. So the formula then is: Smart training + good nutrition + proper timing of meals + sufficient rest and recovery = Successful endurance activity!

After all was said and done, I was rewarded with my goal time of sub four hours; 3:56 minutes. I owe it to good nutrition and hard work. Safe to say best midlife crisis ever!

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Until next time…

Reggae Marathon RunninGuy (aka Sugar ‘Tuff Gong’ Bong)

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