Carbs used to be the villain in mainstream dietary advise.
Do carbs make you fat? Well, if you dont use them they may be stored in the body as fat but they also make for FANTASTIC fuel for the body.
Now carbohydrates come in a few different forms but today we are just going to call it carbs to keep it nice and simple.
So, how do we use carbs to fuel our race before and during and even help us recover afterwards.
BEFORE: Fill up your stores
Carbs can be stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. This is your on the go source of energy that the body will draw from during your race. We want to make sure this is nice and topped up before we cross the line for maximum fuelling efficiency.
This is one of the reasons that we taper our workouts the week leading into an event and also can increase our carbohydrate intake (carbo loading). Think about what your are consuming for 36-48 hours prior to your event and try to add a few more carbohydrates (eg, Pasta) into your meals. You want to cross the start line brimmed with muscle glycogen, your body loves this stuff.
DURING: You're a mobile phone not a car
I heard this analogy a few weeks ago and I think its a really simple concept to consider when discussing fuelling. Think about your car, if you are anything like me you wait for that fuel light to come on, drive another 20 miles then desperately search for a petrol station (this is a blog about carbohydrates not about proper car maintenance). With your phone if you get down to 2% battery you know you are going to be tied to that charger for at least the next couple of hours before you are back up to 100%.
The point of this is when we consider intra race fuelling you want to think about taking on carbs BEFORE you need them. A lot of factors come into this next point including your race intensity and duration, but muscle glycogen will run out.
This is when you need more energy in your system. You need some carbs.
BUT your body can't immediately break down what you put in your system into glucose that is then introduced into the blood stream. It needs to digest.
As a sports nutrition brand we provide quick digesting carbs (think Fuel-5 drink and XND energy gels) but even these are going to take a bit of digestion before they reach the blood.
Play around with how many grams of carbs you need and when to best start taking them, we find most athletes will need to start supplement carbs around the 45 minute point if they are exceeding 90 minutes for their event. Remember everybody is different, a more muscular person can in theory hold more glycogen stores, but has a bigger energy expenditure because of a heavier frame. We are not going to prescribe personal fuelling strategies, you need to test what works for you.
POST: Your body will thank you tomorrow
A lot of the actions we take immediately after a race will effect us more the next morning than it will in the next hour. Just as you would rehydrate and cool the body down after a strenuous event, consider replenishing your body's carbohydrate levels.
You don't need to rush 6 gels into your system (your toilet would likely not thank you for that) but consider that the decisions you make now could directly impact your energy levels in the morning. Your body will still be running at an elevated rate for a few hours post event and probably burning through glycogen, don't leave yourself short for the day after.
I understand this is a simple explanation of how we can use carbs to fuel but from this simple foundation you should be able to build a strategy that will prevent the dreaded sugar crash you may have experienced before.