The Athlete’s Kitchen
Copyright: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD January 2019
As the New Year starts, I hear way too many runners vowing to “knock off carbs” for their nutrition resolution. Most intend to eat less sugar (OK). Some plan to cut out bread, pasta, potato and starchy foods (not OK), and others plan to also limit fruits and veggies (bad idea). The reality is, carbs should be the foundation of your sports diet.
By carbs, I mean primarily fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. But little is wrong with a sprinkling of added sugar (less than 10% of your total daily calories) or enjoying a meal with refined white flour, as long your other meals include whole grains. To be sure we are all on the same page, let’s define this much-maligned word “carb.”
Reasons to keep carbs in your sports diet
Here are five reasons why you, a physically fit runner, want to include carbohydrate in your sports diet.
|Amount of exercise/day||gram carb/lb.
|gram carb/kg body wt|
|1 hour moderate exercise||2.5 to 3||5-7|
|1-3 h endurance exercise||2.5 to 4.5||6-10|
|>4-5 h extreme exercise||3.5 to 5.5||8-12|
For a 150-lb runner who exercises hard 1 hour a day and remains somewhat active the rest of the day, the target intake should be 375 to 450 grams carb per day. That’s at least 90 g (360 calories) carb per meal and 50 g (200 calories) carb at each of two snacks. This is way more carbs than in an ever-popular (low-carb) breakfast protein shake with a few berries, a lunchtime spinach salad, and a dinner with a pile of broccoli but no rice. Here’s what 375 grams of carbohydrate looks like (without the protein and fat that balances the diet):
B: 1 cup dry oats (50g) + 1 banana (25g) + 1 T honey (15g)
L: 2 slices whole wheat bread (45g) + 1 can Progresso lentil soup (60g)
Sn: 1/3 cup raisins (40g) + 1 Tbsp dark chocolate chips (10)
D: 1.5 c cooked brown rice (65g) + 14-oz bag frozen broccoli (20g)
Sn: 8 ounces vanilla Greek yogurt (20) + 1 Nature Valley Granola Bar (30)
While I am sure many of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, “I could never eat that many carbs without getting fat,” this is an appropriate carb intake, believe it or not, and these 1,500 carb-calories can fit into your day’s 2,500+ calorie budget. I invite you to be curious and experiment. How much better can you train with well-fueled muscles?
Carb abuse is the bigger problem than carbs in moderation. The easiest way to prevent carb/sugar abuse is to eat satiating breakfasts and lunches (with carbs + protein) that fill your tummy, prevent afternoon hunger, and curb cravings for sugary sweets later in the day. Preventing hunger minimizes the cravings that give carbs a bad name in the first place. Give it a try?
Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes at her office in Newton, MA (617-795-1875). Her best selling Sports Nutrition Guidebook and food guides for marathoners, cyclists and soccer players offer additional information. They are available at www.NancyClarkRD.com. For her popular online workshop, see www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com.