Carbohydrates to fuel your runs! How much?

This week I decided to take it back to basics and focus on my nutrition to help improve my running. I have had a relaxed summer with the girls. Celebrating and holidaying and spending time with family and friends. Its fair to say it got to the point that I didn’t even bother with the weekly shop as we were out or away so much.

Now that the kids are back to school and a new routine for me in my new job I feel now is as good a time as any to practice what I preach and start the meal planning again.

But  not only that I want my nutrition to step up a notch over the next few weeks to help fuel my runs.


When do we need to eat more?

Carbohydrates play a vital part in anyones diet as they are the main source of energy your body will use.

Its very easy to over eat though and plenty of us probably do it… Heard the term carb loading! Well it plays its part but do you actually know how much you need and how much your eating? Your body can only store so much glycogen needed to energise your workout. The leaner you are the more you can store in your muscles.

I am one of these people that finishes a long run and I am starving. All I want to do is eat and eat and usually this results in me consuming more calories than I probably burnt in the first place.

Most of us will usually consume enough carbohydrates in our diet to fuel a run of about 6-7 miles with out really needing to make much of a change… assuming you have a healthy balanced diet of course. Remember fruit and vegetables are a source of carbohydrates too so I am not talking just about bread, pasta, rice and potatoes and the things we usually think of when we are talking about carbs!

Once your runs start to increase in time and miles the need to refuel your energy levels increases and the need for carbohydrates to replace your energy stores ready for your next run is needed. But how much? How much do we really need to be eating to help benefit our training?


Getting the balance right!

Everyone is different and sometimes its about trial and error. I know I do not cope well with a full tummy when I run and I know what foods I digest better so that I have the right balance to help me run.

But is it working for me? Sometimes no. I get it wrong and I revert back to what I know does work. Do not leave it until race day to start experimenting with food. Practice during your training.

The only thing I will now eat before a race is a bowl of porridge or some wholemeal toast and maybe a banana! I avoid tea because it makes me need to pee, and I do not find running gels work for me throughout a run as they give me tummy ache!

Of course there is a way to work out a good starting point based on your weight and the amount of hours you train for which I will discuss below…


So how much is enough?

The amount needed depends on if we are talking fuel, post run refill or pre run loading. Then you have the in-between times when your not training and just generally stocking the stores back up again.

Depending on your weight and how active you are plus the intensity you are doing it at will determine how much you need over the whole day.

For me this works out at about 5g/kg of body weight because I tend to run for up to 5hrs a week. My dilemma is I then have some fat to lose so I therefore have to reduce my total calories for the day which means my carbs take a knock too so in reality I have about 4g/kg bodyweight. This works for me though. Its actually more than I sometimes manage. Carbs are the easiest thing to reduce to help with fat loss which is why a lot of people believe a low carb diet works.. it does because they generally will be reducing the calories.

For most people you could probably just leave it there if you do not want to make it too complicated.


Before, During and After…

Before a training run or race the optimum amount of carbohydrates to consume would be 2.5g/kg body weight 2-4 hrs before of a slow releasing carbohydrate.

This isn’t always practical. For me it definitely isn’t as I prefer to run in the mornings so I tend to have some wholemeal toast or porridge and hour before. If I am racing this is usually a bit easier as I make sure I eat before we travel and then it tends to be 2hrs before anyway.

During… 70g/hour after the first 30 minutes at your desired intervals. It needs to be a quick releasing carbohydrate.

You only need to do this if your planning on running for longer than an hour.

This is why some runners like to use gels as they are a high source of carbohydrate but they need to be consumed with a large volume of water. They are easy to carry and easy to eat but for me they just give me a stomach ache and to consume the volume of water needed leads me into even more problems along the way…

Finding something else can be hard as it needs to be small enough to carry but also high in carbohydrates. I used to eat jelly babies but not too many otherwise I have the same tummy ache I have with gels.

I discovered Tailwind Nutrition which you add to water and sip throughout your run. I can usually run a good 10 miles with out the need for it but anything longer I will take this with me. The only downside is the need to carry a water bottle if you do not have a Running Backpacks.

After… the optimum amount of carbohydrates to consume in the window after your run is 1g/kg of body weight to replenish your stores.

This can be a quick or slow releasing carbohydrate.


Good Sources of Carbohydrate

It should be low in fat and moderate in fibre to make digestion easier and reduce the risk of any discomfort.

Pre-Workout Meals (2-4 hours before exercise)

  • A jacket potato with a low fat filling like baked beans, tuna.
  • Thin crust pizza with low fat toppings and vegetables or better still make your own.
  • Wholewheat Pasta with a tomato based sauce.
  • Casseroles with lean meats and vegetables and beans served with rice.
  • Cous cous
  • Grilled fish with a noodle based salad
  • Sandwiches, bagels, wraps and rolls filled with chicken, turkey, fish or egg and salad.

Pre-workout Snacks (1-2 hours before exercise)

  • A bowl of cereal
  • A bagel or bread with some peanut butter or mashed banana
  • Yogurt with dried fruit or raisins
  • Oatcakes with peanut butter, jam or cream cheese
  • Yogurt and banana based smoothies
  • Fresh fruit
  • Cereal bars or energy bars

During exercise after the first 30 minutes 

It needs to be fast acting and absorbed quickly for it to be effective and shouldn’t wait until you begin to feel tired as it may take 30 minutes to take effect on your energy levels. It also needs to be easily digested and not heavy on the stomach.

  • Sports drinks
  • Sports Gels
  • Raisins
  • Sports energy bars or make your own energy balls/bars
  • Fruit juice
  • Cereal bar
  • Sweet biscuit such as a digestive
  • 4 jelly babies contains approx 20g

After exercise

In the 2hrs post workout is the best time to consume the carbohydrate to replenish the glycogen stores. 50g is the recommended amount and then your individual requirement should be met above this in the 24hr period.

  • Cereal bar
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Malt loaf slice
  • Sandwich on wholemeal bread

I hope this helps some of you who are struggling to know how much you should be eating and when.

When you look at it in detail its probably not too different to a healthy balanced diet and its just about getting the timings right.

I’ll be putting it into practice myself as I need to find something that works for me during those long runs.


Jaimee x

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