Everybody is talking about carbohydrates, or carbs, as they are commonly called. Your body requires carbs to provide it with energy and it is good at using them efficiently. Fat, on the other hand, always requires plenty of oxygen. Plus, it takes twice as long for fat to provide the same amount of energy as carbohydrates. That is why we have to reduce our pace to burn fat while running, so that our body can keep up with the oxidation process and doesn’t get exhausted. You’ll notice that you’re in the fat-burning zone when your breathing slows down. If your breathing is fast and shallow, you’re body is not burning the fat it could.
This is also when it starts to hurt. You might catch yourself thinking that the couch looks awful comfy right now. Or the question “What the hell am I doing?” keeps popping into your head. But once you have conquered these mental hurdles, things will start to get easier.
Your body stores carbs in the form of glycogen in your liver and muscles. They are important energy reserves — especially for ambitious runners. The more glycogen you have stored in your muscles, the better and longer they can perform.
In general, the following nutrient ratio is recommended for endurance athletes:
Better, faster, farther
Carbs are your muscles’ fuel. The macronutrient is very important for runners looking to enhance their performance (for instance, for a marathon) – not only before workouts, but also after you finish running. If you refill your glycogen stores right after a run, your body will recover faster. This helps your body adapt better to a new or harder workout and builds up your immune system faster again after your training. The more often or intensely you train, the more important a diet rich in carbohydrates is for your recovery.
|Light||< 1 hour/day||3-5 g kg/day|
|Moderate||> 1 hour/day||5-7 g kg/day|
|High||1-3 hour/day||7-10 g kg/day|
|Very high||> 4-5 hour/day||10-12 g kg/day|
The right window of opportunity
The best time for your body to replenish its glycogen stores is within the first 30 minutes after your workout. Consume about 0.5 g of carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight. For a 65 kg woman this should be about 30 g of carbohydrates.
30 g of carbohydrates can be in the form of:
- one medium banana
- 5 dates
- 1 slice of bread with jam
- 40 g of granola with 200 ml of cow’s milk
These carbohydrates (simple carbs) are easy to digest, and the body absorbs them quickly. After 30 minutes, the window starts to gradually close, and your body is no longer able to absorb carbs as efficiently and quickly.
Keep in mind:
You don’t need to eat carbohydrates after a short run (5 to 10 km), because the glycogen stores have not been depleted.
The evening meal after your run
An hour after your run, you should eat a full meal with carbs, protein and fat. To be more exact, your meal should contain a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio. Carbs are still important at this point, but your body also needs protein to build muscles. Too much of this macronutrient, however, can interfere with efficient absorption of carbohydrates and disturb your body’s fluid balance.
Good post-run meals are loaded sweet potato skins, chickpea avocado salad, or vegetarian one pot pasta.
If you want to lose weight: it’s the kind of carbs that counts
Runners whose top priority is to lose weight should try to avoid eating too many carbs. This applies particularly to simple carbohydrates. Complex carbs are necessary as part of a balanced diet, as we shall see below. Short endurance runs (like 5K runs) do not deplete our glycogen stores – so you don’t need to replenish them during your run (for example, with isotonic sports drinks) or right after the run. The best thing to drink after short runs is water.
Eat a mix of complex carbohydrates and protein, as described above one to two hours after your run. But at the end of the day, if you are looking to lose weight, what matters is a negative energy balance (approx. 500 calories/day). This means you should burn more calories than you consume.
Complex carbohydrates = the good carbohydrates?
Runners looking to lose weight need to pay attention to what they eat, as well as their training. The best thing for you to eat is complex carbohydrates (along with high quality protein and healthy fats). These not only keep you feeling full longer, but they provide you with plenty of additional important minerals and vitamins for your metabolism and immune system. Complex carbohydrates are found, for instance, in whole-grain products (like pasta and bread) and brown rice. Whole-grain foods include all the original parts (bran, germ, and endosperm) as well as all their nutrients. Simple carbohydrates are obtained by removing the outside and only keeping the endosperm. Other foods containing complex carbohydrates are potatoes with the skin on them, legumes, and vegetables.
Where are different types of carbohydrates found?
take longer to digest and provide plenty of vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fiber that boost your metabolism and strengthen your immune system:
- Whole-grains and products incl. pasta, bread, and rolls
- Potatoes with the skin on them
- Brown rice
- Beans, lentils and peas
- Vegetables, 100% vegetable juice
are a quick source of energy because they are digested rapidly. They cause your blood sugar and your insulin levels to rise:
- pastry flour and products, cakes, cookies, bread, and rolls
- white pasta
- soft drinks
- sugar and sweets
Do you need carbs after an evening run?
Yes and no. A high-carb snack will refill empty glycogen stores within the first 30 minutes after a long run (over 10 km). The ideal ratio of carbs to protein in a post-run meal is 3:1 for optimal recovery.