“What should I eat during training and racing season?” is a common question asked by athletes. Traditionally, the endurance sports community has been encouraged to carb load to fuel their activity.
But, Coach and Metabolic Efficiency Training Specialist Anne-Marie is here to shake that up a bit!
A problem with the “carb loading” philosophy is that the human body can only store around 1200-2000 calories of glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates utilized by the liver and muscles) at a time. This number is body-size-dependent, so the smaller you are, the lower your glycogen storage capacity and the larger you are, the higher your glycogen storage capacity. Once your liver and muscle glycogen stores are topped off, excess carbs you’ve consumed are converted to triglycerides and stored as… you guessed it… fat! And the bad news is that while your muscles and liver have a finite storage capacity, your body can store an unlimited number of calories as fat.
How do you know if your glycogen stores are full? If you’re eating a standard American diet (some grains, breads, fruit, starchy veggies), then you’re getting all the carbs you need to top off the glycogen stores without intentionally carbing-up. (The exception may be if you just finished a marathon – then it is safe to assume your glycogen stores are low!)
How can you avoid excessive storage of carbs as fat? Balance your carbohydrate and protein portions at each meal, and especially try to avoid an all-carbohydrate meal (ie, a big bowl of pasta on its own). Remember that “carbs” don’t have to be grain-based things like spaghetti, bread, or rice. Sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, root veggies (like carrots, beets, turnips), plantains, bananas, heck, all fruit- provide a great source of carbohydrates PLUS way more vitamins and minerals than what you get in grain-based carbs.
How can you avoid an energy crash? Add some protein & healthy fat with your meals, especially before training. Many people are afraid of eating “too heavy” before a workout will lead to stomach issues, but are pleasantly surprised to find that they do better with more protein/fat and fewer processed carbs. Experiment with different pre-workout meals during your training and see what works best for you… you may be surprised!
Healthy fat examples include coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts, nut butters, avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, grass-fed butter, egg yolks, fats from organic/pasture-raised/wild-
I’ll be writing more about nutrition and the concept of metabolic efficiency in upcoming posts, so stay tuned!