I've been talking a lot about our relationship with food lately and I want to bring another piece to that. One of my passions is sport nutrition because truly fuelling your body in a way that gives you the energy you need to do the movement that brings you enjoyment is such a powerful thing. In our society, carbohydrates seem like they have become public enemy #1 and this is hurting our ability to enjoy being active!
A few months ago, I posted about the importance of getting enough carbohydrates for activity and I promised that I would talk about timing of those carbs so today we're going to get into it! When I started writing this post, it became really long very quickly so we're going to break it down into parts. Today we'll talk about fuelling up before activity, and part II will discuss fuelling during and after activity!
So what should you eat before activity?
If you're doing a regular workout (think less than 90 minutes) then generally you don't need to worry about X grams of carbohydrate before your workout. Instead, try to have a meal or snack a few hours before your workout that contains carbs.
If you're going to the gym over lunch for example and you had breakfast at 6am, you'll probably want to have a carbohydrate-rich snack low in fat and fibre like fruit and yogurt since your breakfast from 6 hours ago isn't going to keep you going anymore! If you had breakfast at 9am though, you might be fine if you have a breakfast with carbohydrates like oatmeal with fruit and a glass of milk.
It's important to remember that what works for everyone is different, so play around with timing and different foods to see what works for you! The key here is to pay attention to how you feel: do you have the energy you need to fuel your activity or do you feel fatigued? Play around with different options to find what feels best for your body!
If you're doing endurance training (longer than 90 minutes of activity) this is when it becomes more important that you're getting enough carbohydrates prior to the session because without proper fuelling, you can deplete your carb storage and "hit the wall." How much you should eat prior to your endurance training depends on how soon before your training or event you're eating.
It's recommended that you consume 1-4g/kg of carbohydrates 1-4 hours prior to your endurance activity, which is around 0.5-2 grams per pound of bodyweight. So for an individual weighing 60kg or around 132lbs, you would want to consume between 60-240g of carbohydrate prior to your activity.
That's a big range, I know! As a general rule of thumb, the closer to your training, the less you'll end up eating. If you're eating 4 hours before activity, that's when 4g/kg would be recommended and if you're eating one hour before an activity, that's when we would recommend 1g/kg of carbohydrates.
Also, as we get to eating closer to the training, it becomes really important to make sure you aren't consuming foods that are high in fibre or fat! Most of the time, fibre and healthy fat is excellent to include because it keeps us fuller, longer because it makes food take longer to empty out of the stomach and takes longer for us to break down and absorb. Right before an endurance event though, we really don't want our fuel hanging out in our stomachs- this can lead to cramping and not having that fuel available to your muscles when you need it.
Some examples of foods you might choose
So what sorts of foods do I suggest and how much carbohydrate do they contain? Here are some examples of meals/ snacks that you might have before activity and their carbohydrate contents but keep in mind that different things work for different people!
Pay attention to how your body feels during your activity. If you're feeling tired, maybe you didn't have enough carbohydrate. If you feel bloated or are having some tummy issues, maybe you need to use something lower in fibre or just try something else. The following is just a guideline, pay attention to what your body is telling you!
(The following carb analysis was done using Canadian Nutrient File and manufacturer's websites)
1 cup cooked oatmeal (35g) with 1 large banana (31g): 66g
1 bagel (64g) with small amount of peanut butter and a cup of milk (13g): 77g
Smoothie using 1 large banana (31g), 1/2 cup blueberries (11g), 1 cup milk (13g), 1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt (12g): 67g
A smoothie can be a good way to get carbs and some protein in a convenient, easy to digest way!
If you're eating more than a few hours before your event, this is when it can be a bit of a struggle to pack in the carbohydrates you need. Some examples of higher carb meals are:
2 cups white rice (112g) with 3oz chicken breast (or tofu) and 1/2 cup stir-fried vegetables (13g) with 1 cup frozen yogurt for dessert (34g): 159g
Yogurt parfait with 1 cup vanilla greek yogurt (23g), 1 cup mango slices (26g), 1 cup granola (83g): 132g
Four 6-inch buttermilk pancakes (88g) topped with 1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt (13g), 1/2 cup strawberries (7g), 1 small banana (21g), 2tbsp maple syrup (27g), small amount of butter or margarine: 149g
You may need to add carbohydrate-dense drinks like chocolate milk (30g per cup), juice (~30g per cup), or sports drinks (17g per cup) to get to the recommended amount of carbohydrates.
Adding juice or chocolate milk to your meal can be a good way to increase the carbs without filling you up- as long as you tolerate them well!
Keep in mind that you need to try different things out to see what works for you! It's a fairly large volume of food to get the carbs necessary for 4 hours out so 2 hours out and having a smaller amount of carbs might be better you. Or maybe you love a big pancake breakfast and tolerate it well so that works for you.
If your race is first thing in the morning (as many of them are) you may want to consider getting up early, having your meal, and going back to sleep to get it spaced out properly if it's too early for you. Remember though- never try something for the first time on the day of your event! You don't want to realize that your stomach really doesn't do well with bagels for example right before the event you've been training for!
For information on how much and when to fuel you body with carbohydrates for during and after activity stay tuned! If you're interested in working with me, you can check out the services I offer here. Dietitian services are covered by some extended health plans; contact your plan to find out if they're covered by yours!