Go out to dinner with anyone on a diet and they’ll proudly tell you they’re cutting ‘carbs’! Good for them, but for us runners, carbohydrate-rich foods just happen to be the optimum and most accessible fuel for energy!
Why? Once digested, carbohydrate is converted into blood glucose and used for energy, or stored in the liver and muscle, in the form of ‘glycogen’.
We rely on this stored carbohydrate, or glycogen, to drip-feed energy to keep us going when we run. We can store enough glycogen to fuel us for about 90 minutes of running, after which we need to top up to prevent ‘hitting the wall’!
Not all carbs are the same, however. A can of full-sugar fizzy drink will give you a quick sugar rush (followed by a slump in energy) whilst a bowl of porridge with seeds and banana will provide a gradual source of energy to sustain you through your run.
Slow-releasing, low -medium G.I.* carbs will fuel your everyday training. Eaten 2-3 hours before running, they’ll provide a gradual source of energy to help regulate blood sugar and maintain energy levels. Examples of healthy foods rich in slow-releasing carbohydrates are oats, wholegrain bread and cereals, basmati rice, couscous, pasta, quinoa, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pulses and lentils, bananas (see top 10 #gofaster carbs below). These are great to incorporate into your everyday meals. Click here to check out my runner’s recipes.
Fast-releasing, high G.I. carbs will help you recover after your run, or give you a rapid energy boost during a longer run, by replenishing your glycogen levels quickly and thereby promoting a faster recovery so you’ll be ready for the following day’s run. The first 15 minutes is considered the the ‘golden window’ for optimum refuelling, as this is when your body is most receptive to refuelling and will do so at a faster rate than normal.
Foods such as glucose sweets, jelly babies and gels, white bread, white jasmine rice, pudding rice, baked potatoes, mashed potatoes and chips, puffed cereals, sugary cereals, sugary biscuits, cakes and energy bars, are all rich in fast releasing carbohydrate. But it’s best to avoid eating too many or these part of your everyday diet as they can play havoc with your blood sugar levels.
Top 10 #GoFaster Carbs
A perfect mix of carbohydrate, protein and fibre, oats are the ultimate athlete’s breakfast. Best eaten as whole rolled unrefined oats, they will keep you going for ages due to their low Glycaemic Index as they release energy into the bloodstream gradually. If you’re bored of porridge, try these #gofaster runner’s pancakes!
Any pasta, fresh or dried, is fabulous food for athletes. It has a low GI, it’s low in fat and extremely high in carbohydrate. Wholewheat pasta is more nutritious as it contains more fibre, minerals and B vitamins than white pasta. Try this Creamy Avocado, Bacon & Basil Spaghetti.
Rice is low in fat and is an excellent source of carbohydrate, as well as vitamin E, B vitamins and potassium. Short-grain rice, for instance pudding rice and Thai jasmine rice, are best for post workout recovery. Longer grain rice, for instance basmati rice, risotto rice wild rice and red rice has a lower GI and is therefore more sustaining – great for everyday meals. At Go Faster Food we love this recipe – Red Rice with Roasted Vegetables
4. Couscous, Bulgur Wheat & Freekeh
Definitely high on the go faster list of favourite carbohydrates, couscous, bulgur wheat and freekeh are very versatile, a doddle to prepare and very, very tasty. We also like it because it is light on the stomach, so you can pack in a substantial amount of carbs without feeling too full or bloated.
A great substitute for rice or pasta, especially for those who can’t eat gluten or wheat. With a medium GI, it is low in fat, high in carbohydrate and very easy to digest.
Gluten-free and wheat-free, quinoa has an astounding array of nutrients and provides an excellent level of slow-release energy. It works well as an alternative to either pasta or rice and is both delicious and easy to digest. Quinoa is not only very rich in carbohydrate, it also contains a complete source of protein, that is, all eight essential amino acids, and has a high mineral content, including calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium. You’ll love it with this Chilli Chocolate Chicken Recipe!
7. Lentils and Pulses
Slow-release, low in fat and extremely nutritious, lentils and beans can help lower cholesterol and are rich in carbohydrate, protein, B vitamins, fibre and minerals such as iron, calcium and zinc.
8. Fruit and starchy vegetables
Fruit and starchy vegetables provide a great carbohydrate. These include fruits such as cherries, apples, bananas. pears, pineapple, mangoes and grapes, and vegetables like beetroot, butternut squash, carrots, corn, peas, sweet potatoes and parsnips. Try this yummy training smoothie – beetroot, watercress & apple iron booster
Packed with nutrition, potatoes tend to be on the higher end of the GI spectrum. Boiled, unpeeled new potatoes have the lowest GI; mashed, baked and chipped potatoes have a much higher GI. Potatoes are good to include in your training diet as they contain good quantities of vitamin C, along with potassium, iron, fibre and other minerals.
A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down! Well, what’s the point of running if you can’t eat cake! Sugary foods act quickly to replenish the glycogen in your muscles after a long workout. Sugary drinks and sweets are packed with empty calories so try to choose nutrient-rich options such as these wholesome chocolate energy bites!