Running is a challenging and rewarding sport. However, for those who partake in this activity, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet. The body’s needs are constantly changing as the runner adjusts their performance level, endurance, and other factors.
As such, runners need to find ways of sustaining themselves on long-distance runs by consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates. In order to make sure that they obtain enough carbs during training sessions or races, many runners turn to supplements like gels or energy bars which offer an easily digestible source of carbohydrates without the bulkiness often associated with food consumption before running.
Some runners prefer not to use these types of products due to potential side effects like stomach cramps or nausea so it’s important for them to try different natural methods of consuming carbohydrates to determine which works best.
Regardless of your preference, it’s important to focus on the type and timing of carbohydrate consumption in order to best meet your body’s needs and maximize performance.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients that provide energy for the human body (the others being protein and fat). They are an essential component to maintaining a healthy diet as they give us long-lasting fuel resources compared to fats and proteins. Without them, we would not be able to adequately perform during exercise or training sessions.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates include sugars while complex ones encompass starches and fiber. However, when it comes to running, the majority of carbohydrates should come from high-energy foods or dietary supplements.
Why Are Carbohydrates Important for Runners?
During training sessions and races, runners need to have adequate levels of glycogen in their muscles. Glycogen is essentially a long-lasting source of fuel that helps power your muscles while you run.
However, glycogen is depleted during exercise so it’s important to load up on carbs prior to workouts in order to get the most out of your body during training sessions.
What are the Different Types of Carbohydrate Sources?
There are the store-bought options that you can try, simple carbs and complex carbs. Today we’ll go over each of these to better understand how and when to use them.
3 Store-Bought Carb Options
- Post-run Recovery Drinks
This type of carbohydrate-rich beverage should be consumed within 30 minutes after completing your workout session. It is important to consume this drink within that time frame because your muscles are most receptive to replenishing their glycogen stores after you run.
Energy gels are an easily digestible way to give yourself a boost during training sessions and races. When choosing a gel, it’s important to consider one that contains both simple and complex carbs as these will be able to provide you with sustained energy while you exercise. Many runners prefer gels over other types of dietary supplements because they believe they cause less stomach upset than bars or liquids do.
This type of carbohydrate-rich food is often consumed by runners before or after workouts due to its ease of consumption and availability at sports nutrition stores. As with gels, it is important to consider the type of carbs you’ll be getting from a bar as some may contain well-balanced sources while others lack complexity.
12 Natural Sources Of Healthy Carbohydrates
Because they are so small in size, bananas can easily be taken along to training sessions or races. They are also a healthy alternative compared to the more popular energy gels that contain tons of ingredients some runners may not want in their systems during exercise times.
Honey contains fast carbs that are meant to give you short boosts throughout your workout session. However, it is important for runners to use caution when consuming honey because it does contain fructose which could potentially cause stomach upset if eaten before running or racing.
Yogurt is a good pre-race choice because the carbohydrates in it are delivered in small, easy-to-digest packages. It contains both lactose (milk sugars) and protein (another slow fuel).
Berries are packed with both fast carbs and antioxidants. They are known to help runners recover quickly after hard workouts. They are rich in vitamins and minerals too. However, don’t rely on them entirely.
Raisins are packed with both fast carbs and potassium, an electrolyte that is often lost during exercise bouts due to the high amounts of sweat that come out during running sessions. Their small size also makes them easier for runners to eat before training runs or races.
- Citrus Fruit
Citrus fruit can easily be taken along on long runs because they usually come in easy-to-grab formats like slices or wedges. These fruits contain vitamins C and A as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium, thiamine, folate, and niacin.
- Black Beans
If you are looking for complex carbs to provide sustained energy, look no further than black beans. They contain the perfect balance of carbs and protein which is complete with fiber benefits.
Oatmeal not only contains slow-acting carbs that will fuel your training sessions but it also provides runners with a good dose of amino acids that can help repair muscle tissue post activity. Many runners who eat oatmeal daily have also reported having less muscle soreness following longer workouts or races.
- Brown Rice
This unprocessed carb source is an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It provides runners with both complex carbohydrates and protein.
- Whole Grain Bread
Make sure that you opt for whole-grain bread when shopping around for carbs instead of seeking out white bread options. Not only will they contain more fiber and nutrients, but they will also offer much-needed complex carbs to fuel your muscles during training sessions.
Despite the name, quinoa has nothing to do with rice. Botanically speaking, it is actually part of the spinach family and related most closely to sugar beets and tumbleweeds! Quinoa is easy to digest, which makes it another excellent pre-run addition due to its high glycemic index (GI).
It is also one of the best carbohydrate sources for runners looking for something meatless that contains many necessary nutrients like calcium, protein, fiber, vitamin E, riboflavin, magnesium, and manganese. Being rich in all these nutrients has enabled quinoa to be called ‘the queen of grains’.
- Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes contain antioxidants that help your body fight free radicals before they can cause damage. They also help you absorb more iron from other foods when eaten together. This is important during training sessions and races because iron gives your blood cells the ability to transport oxygen throughout your body.
What Are the Healthiest Choices?
According to sports nutrition experts, the best carbohydrate supplements for runners come in the form of actual food. Whole grains are great sources of fiber which is critical to overall digestive health.
Another benefit of whole grains is that they contain plenty of vitamins and minerals that can actually aid with overall fueling during workouts or races. When athletes eat these foods instead of processed supplements, they are also ingesting far fewer calories but getting more nutrients out of their carbs.
White rice is obviously not as healthy as brown rice because it lacks most essential vitamins and minerals. It does provide runners with energy but it’s important to consider how much you’re actually consuming since just one cup contains approximately 220 calories and 45 grams of carbs – compared to about 50 grams from brown rice, that’s a lot of extra calories.
When Should I Use The Right Carbohydrates?
- All Types Of Beans
Beans contain both complex carbohydrates and protein which makes them another great choice for runners who are looking to add more fuel to their diet in order to power through training sessions or races. It is also worth noting that beans can be added to just about any meal of the day, making it a great carbohydrate source for runners of all types.
Apples are a runner-friendly fruit because they only contain around 15 grams of carbs per serving. This is important for pre-workout carbs because you never know how many miles you will have left after consuming an option like an apple before getting hungry again. It is a good idea to look for carb supplements that contain complex carbs from fruits like apples which are typically low in sugar and high in fiber.
Bananas are one of the most popular carbohydrate options after exercise since they may be carried with you on workouts or races. They’re also high in potassium, which aids in muscle recovery after hard running and prevents cramps.
- Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes actually provide runners with what they need after workouts: fast and slow-acting carbohydrates. The sweet potato contains both types of sugars and the ability to replenish depleted glycogen stores quickly while providing longer-lasting energy with its complex carbohydrates.
Quinoa is an excellent choice for runners going into their next workout because it contains a perfect mixture of complex carbs and protein. This makes quinoa a great option for those marathoners trying to replace glycogen stores after their race is over.
Watermelon is a delicious fruit that many runners turn to once they have crossed the finish line at a race or training session. Not only does it provide hydration, but watermelon also provides fast-acting sugars so runners can replenish glycogen stores quickly after long runs or marathons. It can be eaten in pieces or even blended fresh with some ice cubes to create a nice cool ‘sports drink’ alternative during hot summer months.
The carbohydrates in oranges are very easy on the stomach which means they are another good post-race carbohydrate choice if your digestive system needs some TLC after a tough workout.
- Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a runner’s best friend when they have just completed a race or hard training session. This makes them an ideal choice for runners of all types who need to replenish their depleted energy stores quickly after a long run or marathon.
What Are The Benefits Of Carbohydrate Supplements for Runners?
Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet. If you are exercising, they are especially important for fueling your body with the energy it needs to perform at its best. Our bodies don’t store carbohydrates so we need to consume them every day to fuel our muscles and brain cells with energy.
Carbs can play a big role for runners when it comes to ensuring that they do not deplete their glycogen levels during these tough training sessions. Many athletes rely on energy drinks or gels which have simple sugars, but there are also carbohydrate supplements available that contain more complex carbohydrates such as glucose polymers. The advantage of using these supplements is that they will deliver nutrients over a longer period of time compared to energy drinks and gels.
Increases Performance Potential
Carbohydrates are an important component of any runner’s diet due to the fact that they are converted into energy that is used by the body for various functions. The human body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to create cellular energy through a process called cellular respiration.
During this process, chemical bonds in the glucose molecule break down to form carbon dioxide and water while releasing energy. This is how we derive most of our energy from carbs: 1 ATP (energy) → 3 ADP (energy) + heat → 2 ATPs + 2 H2O → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O.
Carbs also play a crucial role in insulin production and secretion, allowing us to function throughout the day without feeling tired or drowsy. As one of the simplest molecules to digest, it also makes carbs an efficient energy source.
Good For Glycogen Storage
Carbohydrates are essential for runners due to their ability to help your body store water in muscles which leads to increased glycogen storage. Plus, having ample glycogen stores will allow you to run without being fatigued quickly.
Glycogen is a carbohydrate that is stored in muscle tissue and can be used as fuel when needed by the body during exercise. Without enough carbohydrates, the body cannot maintain the endurance needed to stay focused on running long distances.
While there are many carbohydrate supplements available today which claim they have no effect on insulin levels, studies have shown that these supplements may actually increase insulin levels slightly at first but cause a significant decline later on. Most runners find that dietary sources of carbohydrates are the best for avoiding spikes in insulin levels.
Related: 10 Best Recovery Drinks For Runners
Best Time To Take Carbohydrate Supplements For Runners
The best time to take carbohydrate supplements during exercise is 30 minutes before you start if you are planning to run for 90 minutes or less. If you are running longer than 90 minutes, take carbohydrates during your run every 30-60 minutes.
Fewer than 300mg of carbs per hour will not improve performance. For most runners, consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour is ideal. If you are running for less than an hour, you probably don’t need supplements unless you’re training several times a day. If you are exercising longer than two hours, carbohydrate supplements could help reduce fatigue and decrease recovery time after the workout.
What Types Of Carbs Should I Take?
Carbohydrates come in many different forms that can be digested at different speeds, making it easy to choose your favorite kind. The best carbohydrates before or during exercise include simple sugars like glucose, sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), glucose polymers, maltodextrin, and dextrose.
Carbs with a low glycemic index (GI) can be digested more slowly than carbs with a high GI. If you are exercising for less than 90 minutes, choose carbohydrates with a low to moderate GI rating.
Runners who exercise for longer than 90 minutes should aim to ingest carbohydrates that have a moderate to the high glycemic index (75+). These sugars will help reduce fatigue and decrease recovery time after the workout.
Good examples include gels, sports drinks, energy bars, bananas, oranges, grapes, baked potatoes, cooked beans, whole-wheat bread or English muffins, pasta, or cereal. You can also eat more complex carbohydrates like oatmeal, which will take longer to digest and provide a more sustained source of energy.
After exercising, the best carbohydrate supplements for runners include simple sugars with a low glycemic index (50-75). This is because your body can absorb these carbohydrates very quickly into your muscles without causing a “sugar high” or big jump in insulin levels that could lead to a sudden drop in blood sugar levels later on. Good examples include orange juice, fruit smoothies, bananas, grapes, plain yogurt, honey, maple syrup, figs, dates, or raisins.
What Snacks Are Good For Runners?
The most popular snacks for runners are high in carbohydrates, high in protein, high in fiber, low in fat, low in saturated fat, low in calorie density, and frequently include foods that are salty.
The following are the best snacks for runners:
- Peanut butter or almond butter with honey on whole-grain crackers
- A banana with peanut butter
- A granola bar
- Half of the avocado with sea salt
- A veggie juice or vegetable soup
- A frozen fruit smoothie with milk or yogurt
- String cheese or natural cheese sticks
- Plain popcorn