Friday, October 5, 2007

How do I carb up for a race?

When I was the team physician for University of Central Florida,the trainers for the endurance sports usually came to the weekly clinic with one or two athletes that were eating "weird" before a competition. Most notorious were the mens soccer player. Great group of guys and excellent training staff but some of the guys were scholarship athletes from different countries so not only was there a language barrier, there was also a difference in food preferences. The soccer team as an example had a very deep bench and coach could call on substitutes frequently so top players didn't "hit the wall". (a term used for running out of energy during a work out or competition). Ask any distance runner or cardio athlete and they can tell you one time they just had no more gas to continue and just felt lousywith huge performance losses. Most non-cardio aggressive sports will be able to rest and conserve energy so as not to "bonk out".

When I asked about how these athletes would prepare for a saturday match, Greg (the mens soccer trainer) would respond they hit the cafeteria and try to choose high carb foods for the dinner friday night. This is basicly correct but it can be tweeked. I like the old way which was draining down 2-3 days before the event with a low carb diet (20% of total diet being carbs) thendoinga high aerobic exercise 1-2 days before and loading with a high carb diet the day before the event when the work out is light. This is the way it was done in my day when John Travolta did the Saturday Night Fever thing (the 70's). Newer versions cameout in the time of PearlJam (the 80's) where an athlete didnt have to dwindle glycogen stores down before the load and just started to load with a gentler amount of carbs in the diet 3 days or so before the event. (70% carbs) Being an herbalist, I always like the concept of clearing out the liver before a big event anyway. (Those unseen toxins and free radicals do accumulate somewhere....but thats another post!)

There were studies to prove that athletes did run out of glycogen stores in the liver by end of the 1st half. Muscle biopsies were done on the athlete begining midway and at the end of a soccer match (who on earth would allow someone to poke a needle into a calf muscle and study tissue fibers while playing soccer...I guess thats the payback for paying a scholarship). Results showed glycogen stores were close to 90% depleted by second half. That leaves an entire half game played with no energy stores. Most division I athletes can continue to execute technique but overall prefomance will suffer. Remember Micheal Jordan returning to his first game after retiring the 1st time and he still had technique but younger players were running all over him and stealing balls. Of two equally matched teams in talent, the one with higher nutrition levels in their player will be able to take advantage of the players on the other team running out of gas. In the real world of 50 hour work weeks, child care and limited time to compete, we dont often compete with others but performance decreases will be seen in fatigue and aches lasting the days after a routine work out or work performance and concentration being effected days following a hard work out. Worse case is that we may open ourselves to infection due to the immune system being stressed from excessive glycogen store depleation and poor rest when we need protection from the bacteria our kids bring home from school. (Same concept as a diabetic being more at risk for infection, white blood cells are supposed to fight and gobble up bacteria but if the glucose molecule cant get into the WBC for energy creation, it wont function properly to track and kill bacteria.)

The real world approach to carb loading still exists for the division I II or III athlete, regarding the specific types of carbs to go to the store and look for, I have been requested to write a blog on spcific shopping.....keep posted on a new blog! If you are not in competition for a 5K, triathalon, marathon or
endurance sport, still consider hitting the high carb intake within 2 hours of an aggressive work out to at least prepare for the rebuilding phase of muscle or the next work out. Many of the average joes that consult me are working out to gain muscle and lose weight and dont consider themselves athletes but I warn you that there will still be a bonk out or hit the wall point where health will suffer, it just may not be as sudden as the competitive athlete. The two hour rule is the golden hour as I call it when muscle membrane and glyconeogenesis in the liver is peaked to form high stores. After that the hormones that are circulating in the body arent as keen on taking carbs/glucose into the liver or muscle cell and convert to glycogen. (Think of glucose floating in the blood stream as electricity from an outlet and electrical cord; glycogen as stored energy in a battery.) In a game, theres no electrical outlet to connect to and we rely on the battery. On the bench we can "plug in with gatorade or power gel". -Not necessarily the best but most US schools are sponsored by gatorade. The proper ratio of carb to protein ratio is 3carbs to 1 protein within 15 min and up to 2 hours. Simple carbs are better, those with a higher glycemic index, since they get absorbed rapidly. Here is a nice table from


Breads & Grains
waffle - 76
doughnut - 76
bagel - 72
wheat bread, white - 70
bread, whole wheat - 69
cornmeal - 68
bran muffin - 60
rice, white - 56
rice, instant - 91
rice, brown - 55
bulgur - 48
spaghetti, white - 41
whole wheat - 37
wheat kernels - 41
barley - 25

Rice Krispies - 82
Grape Nuts Flakes - 80
corn Flakes - 77
Cheerios - 74
shredded wheat - 69
Grape Nuts 67
Life - 66
oatmeal - 61
All Bran - 42
watermelon - 72
pineapple - 66
raisins - 64
banana - 53
grapes - 52
orange - 43
pear - 36
apple - 36

Starchy Vegetables
potatoes, baked - 83
potatoes, instant - 83
potatoes, mashed - 73
carrots - 71
sweet potatoes - 54
green peas - 48

baked beans - 48
chick peas - 33
butter beans - 31
lentils - 29
kidney beans - 27
soy beans - 18

ice cream - 61
yogurt, sweetened - 33
milk, full fat - 27
milk, skim - 32

rice cakes - 82
jelly beans - 80
graham crackers - 74
corn chips - 73
life savers - 70
angel food cake - 67
wheat crackers - 67
popcorn - 55
oatmeal cookies - 55
potato chips - 54
chocolate - 49
banana cake - 47
peanuts - 14

honey - 73
sucrose - 65
lactose - 46
fructose - 23

soft drinks - 68
orange juice - 57
apple juice - 41

Foods listed from highest to lowest glycemic index within category. Glycemic index was calculated using glucose as the reference with GI of 100. Modified from Foster-Powell and Brand Miller (1995).

So the "Saguil Approach" is if you are in competion for a moderate cardiovascular event increase exercise intensity 1-3 days before the event, decrease carb intake 2-3 days before the event, load with high G.I. foods day before the event. Replenish with high glycemic foods, gels or drinks during the event. Finally, if you just work out but intend to "max out" every 4-6weeks, try to keep a balanced diet at all times, intake a 4/1 ratio of carb to protein within 2 hours of finishing the work out and for the love of Pete, don't be spending on expensive protein mixes or weight gain/slim down powders when not even maintaining a proper diet, sleep regime or vitamin supplement schedule. If you try to cut corners, you may not hit the wall or bonk out as aggressively as my D-I students but at one point you will get hurt or sick and plateau. (Email me or see an approved american dietetic association nutritionist or dietician). Exercise safely and have fun!