Pasta dishIf you have ever run a marathon or even a half marathon, you have likely used carbs to build endurance during training and boost performance on race day. Carbs are sugar-based molecules that help the body produce glucose. They can be helpful even if you don’t plan to log so many miles. Here are some reasons to include quality carb intake in your routine during exercise and performance.

Carbs Fuel your Workout

Before your work out or performance that lasts more than 90 minutes, increase your carb intake for 2 to 3 days before the event.  During this period, about 70% of your calories should come from carbs like baked potatoes and pasta – hence the pre-race pasta dinner.

Carbohydrates are converted to glycogen, an ideal fuel for hard working muscles. Your muscles and liver store glucose as glycogen and the body converts glycogen back to glucose when needed. If your event or workout lasts longer than 45 to 60 minutes, you will need to boost your energy stores with carbs. If you don’t, you will not have enough energy to deliver your best performance. Readily available carb choices include pretzels, gels, sports beans and sports drinks.

Carbs can help with your regular workout, too.  A 200 calorie snack of protein and carbs about an hour before your after work workout can give you the boost you need to get through that period between lunch and dinner with enough energy to give it your best. Good choices include a piece of French bread with cheese or peanut butter on a bagel.  Other carbohydrate choices include a banana, 3 fig newtons, a 16 oz. sports drink, or a Luna bar for about 30 grams of carbs. Check nutritional information on prepackaged selections to be sure your intake is adequate.

Does your fitness routine include regular, vigorous workouts? Boost your performance by choosing a diet that consists of 50 to 60% carbs.  Diets with high percentages of fat and protein have been shown to hamper endurance. Although protein is important for muscle growth and development, you want to be sure your intake is in line with your overall fitness and health goals.

How Much is Enough?

A University of Arizona article entitled Carbohydrate Intake Guidelines for Exercise advises taking in 30-60 grams of carbs during every hour of exercise beyond 60 minutes. You should also refuel with carbs after exercise, ideally within 30 minutes. After exercise, glycogen stores are low. Take in some easily digestible carbs like low-fat chocolate milk.

Refueling with carbs helps protect fitness gains and avoid poor performance the next time out. The half hour window is optimal because glycogen synthesis happens most efficiently just after exercise.  Carbs can also help protect against overtraining.

Make it Familiar

Avoid any food or drinks that have not been part of your training routine. That includes sports gels or drinks. Unfamiliar products the night before or on race day may cause unpleasant gastrointestinal issues that have you running for the restroom instead of the finish line.

Bagel Peanut Butter and AppleCarb intake is important for energy during exercise and performance. Not only will you perform better with carbs, you may find that you enjoy the workout more because when you fuel right it is less of a chore.