Carbohydrate Intake and Uptake

Carbohydrates are the energy source most runners use to fuel their training and their racing. Wait? most runners. That’s right there are some runners out there who use fats, protein, and even nothing. But this blog is about the carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is what our bodies burn to fuel our muscles, nerves, and brains. Our bodies can store glucose as glycogen in our muscles, but it’s limited. When we run out, we hit the infamous WALL, if we haven’t properly fueled. Our blood also has glucose floating around. Maintaining our blood sugar level is how we prevent hitting, or reduce the impact of, the wall.

Ultrarunners and even some marathon runners struggle with GI issues and are constantly on the look out for ways to optimize their fueling strategy and minimize GI distress. It seems like a never ending cycle, and I’m not here to tell you there’s a way to end it, but there are different things to experiment with and thereby, possibly minimize your discomfort. In our efforts to maintain our blood sugar level and avoid the wall, we may overload on the carbs which causes sloshing, cramps, bloating, and other nasty things in our stomachs.

So the trick to minimizing GI issues, is knowing how much to intake to maximize uptake, but not overload the system. This blog is also for those who don’t suffer from GI issues, since we’re going to look at how much carbohydrate a body can uptake.

Depending on the intensity you’re running at, you’re going to run out of glycogen stores withing about 90 minutes to three hours as an average endurance runner. To maintain your blood sugar levels you need to start taking carbs in right before you begin your race or a long training run. Then, you’ll need to take more at regular intervals to meet that 60-90 grams per hour.

What we know is that regardless of how many grams of carbohydrates you intake, your body can only uptake between 60-90 grams an hour. What determines whether it’s 60 or 90 is the type of carbohydrate your taking in. Your body can process about 60 grams of glucose an hour. So if all you’re getting is glucose, don’t try to put more than 60 grams an hour in.

To get to the 90 grams an hour, you have to combine the 60 grams of glucose with 30 grams of fructose (although sucrose is a combination of fructose and glucose it’s not processed the same so avoid sucrose as a source of fuel). The reason your body can handle the 90 grams of carb processing is because glucose and fructose take different paths to be absorbed by your body.

Sixty grams of glucose produces about 232 calories. Thirty grams of fructose produces about 120 calories. For a grand total of 352 calories replaced during every hour if you play your cards right.

Dextrose and Maltodextrin are made from starches, but are absorbed like glucose. This is nice to know because fructose is very sweet and sometimes sweet things become intolerable during a race. Maltodextrin and Dextrose are not as sweet as glucose and so they can be combined with fructose to get the same benefit of the 90 grams of carbs.

Water intake with the carbs is important. Your digestive system needs water to break things down and get it into your blood stream to be used. Without water, it just sits in your stomach (which is why dehydration causes GI issues). If you put more than the 60-90 grams in an hour, your body is not going to be able to absorb them and they will just sit in your stomach causing problems.

What if you’re feeling depleted, but can’t stomach more food/gels/chews? You can rinse your mouth with a carbohydrate rich drink and spit it out. This will make your brain think that carbs are on the way and give you a little boost for a little bit, but unless your close to the finish line, you still need to figure out your GI issue.

 

Changing Your Metabolism

boost-matabolism

Your metabolism is your body’s ability to breakdown the food you eat and turn it into the energy you burn. A faster metabolism is going to get energy to your working muscles faster, but that means you need to eat more to sustain the same level of output. A slower metabolism requires less replenishment and provides a more steady stream of energy although at a lower level.

There are things you can do to speed it up and slow it down. Some of that has to do with what you are eating, but a good portion of it is also preset depending in your age, gender, and genetics.

To speed it up: Eat a healthy breakfast, and not something tiny like a protein shake, make it count. Second, caffeine. Yep we caffeine drinkers know this is true. That regularly timed poop? thank the coffee. Third, water— make sure you are getting enough water. I’m not talking about liquid in general bus specifically water. First water doesn’t have calories and second if you drink it cold it burns a few. Fourth, make sure you are getting protein at each meal. Protein helps build muscle and muscle more calories even at rest. Fifth, drink green tea. Green tea has a plant compound called ECGC which boosts fat burning. Sixth, when you succumb to temptation and eat a high fat treat or meal, follow it up with something that has a bunch of calcium. Calcium helps your body metabolize fat. It needs to be from an actual food source though not a supplement. Seventh, get spicy with your food. Capsaicin the compound that makes chili’s hot, also turns up your body’s fat burning furnace. And finally, go organic– the pesticides we use on our food, slows the metabolism down.

Slow it down: Space your meals out— the more frequently you eat, the faster your metabolism runs. Exercise at a lower intensity. Second sleep less it makes you less likely to exert extra energy. Dehydration and skipping breakfast. Not eating enough is a sure fire way to slow your metabolism because your body begins to hold onto everything it can.

100 mile fuel

run and eat

Everyone uses different things to fuel their body during a 100-mile run. You have to find what works for you through trial and error. What I do know, is what works for you as a marathon runner, probably won’t work as an ultrarunner.

Some ultrarunners use the traditional sports fuel such as Gu, shot blocks, sports beans and the like, but it’s difficult to use them throughout the race. You just get sick of it and it becomes more difficult to choke it down.

Fueling is necessary, which means you have to put something down the hatch. Perusing the aid station buffet will give you an idea of what most ultrarunners eat: various types of candy, trail mix, potato chips, boiled and salted potatoes, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, ham or turkey sandwiches, Romen noodles, and fruit.

Bodies run off mainly carbohydrates during exercise. You can also burn fat and more runners are turning to a low carb diet, which allows them to tap into their fat stores as fuel during their runs. This is very useful and can be very beneficial to runners who have stomach issues regularly. You have to eat a whole lot less when you’re low carb. I’ve used this strategy, but could only maintain it for eighteen months because I couldn’t get enough fats to sustain my energy output. I’ve been back on carbs for about 18 months and feel great. I’ve written two blogs on low carb running if you are interested they are here and here.

 

What about protein during runs? I discourage most protein while running because protein, for most people, digests slow. It sits in your stomach slowing your metabolism down. A slow metabolism means your body doesn’t get fuel quickly. You need carbs to go through quickly if you want to maintain a good pace throughout the run. You also need electrolytes and water to go through quickly. If your digestive system is working on a lump of protein, everything else is going to come through slower too.

Easily digestible proteins are fine during a race, but not too much and space it out. Nut butters are easy, cheeses are easier, and plant based proteins are easy. Meat is not easy. Many protein bars(especially over 10 grams) are not easy.

The only way you are going to figure out what works for you is by training with different things until you find a few things that work for you. I suggest you find multiple things that work because you get sick of eating the same thing every hour (or more) for up to 36 hours.

The other thing I strongly encourage is to find out what the event is using at their aid stations and make sure you can use them. Especially, electrolyte pills or drinks and other specific sports nutrition such as Gu.

My favorites: Swedish fish,Oreo cookies, fruits, peanut butter and jelly, and chick-o-sticks (all vegan by the way :0)

Eat To Run

run and eat

How much does what we eat impact how we perform? There is a group of runners who subscribe to the belief, “I run, therefore I eat what I want,” which is a pretty unhealthy diet.

There is a mistaken belief that the higher mileage you run, the unhealthier you can eat since you’ll just run it off on the weekend with your twenty mile or longer run. There is lots of research out there about what is the healthiest diet for runners and athletes in general.

If you look, you can find support for many diets including low-carbohydrate, paleo, fruititarian, vegetarian, and vegan. There is not support for the eat whatever I want diet and still perform well as an athlete.

Food supplies the body with energy and nutrients. It provides you with immediate energy and long lasting energy. High sugar foods lead to crashes and cravings for more high sugar foods. Food with high calories can lead to weight gain and an increase in fat mass because you get more calories than you are burning off.

Running requires a large supply of oxygen to be transported through your blood to your working muscles. Foods rich in trans or hydrogenated fats cause buildup in veins and slow the blood flow, which means your heart, lungs, and muscles don’t get the oxygen they need and you slow down.

The insulin gait connection is something new research has uncovered. Consumption of a high carbohydrate diet causes your body to increase production of insulin. Too  much insulin in our bodies means we are not able to maintain a healthy balance of blood sugar levels. Imbalances in blood sugar can cause irritability, cravings for sugar, excessive appetite, afternoon drowsiness or headaches, getting the shakes, and trouble sleeping.

People with blood sugar imbalances have irregular gait patterns and thus some chronic ache, pain or injury. How does this happen? High levels of insulin affect the brain directly and not just mental functioning but physical functioning too. The more the brain is lacking proper nutrition the more impaired the more physical movement will suffer. An impaired gait leads to other muscles compensating and then to injury.

Foods that are going to benefit your running are nutrient dense whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, brown rice and protein from lean meats or plant based. Healthy fats are also important to decreased inflammation and build strong cell membranes that are resistant to damage during exercise. Good sources of fat are avocados, olive oil, nuts, and coconut.

Finally, getting enough calories to fuel your body is just as important (perhaps more) as what you are eating. Without enough calories, your body begins to consume your own muscles when you are underweight. Muscle loss is not the goal of any athlete. The recommendation currently is 2800 calories a day for middle aged active men and 2200 calories a day for middle aged active women. Here is a chart to find your age group.

Eating healthy gives your body the building blocks it needs to recover quickly and repair damage done through training.

Food as Fuel

food as fuel

Many runners, both new and more experienced, ask me if they should change their diet. I tell them, “You don’t have to change your diet to run, but you probably will once it starts holding you back.”

If all you ever want to do with running is complete 5k’s and 10k’s comfortably a few times from spring until fall, your diet probably doesn’t matter too much unless you are overweight. If you are overweight, the extra pounds will make running harder so changing your diet will be beneficial even if you never plan to compete and never plan to run more than a 10k.

If you want to be competitive or run farther than the 10k, you will reach a point when you realize that the bucket of movie popcorn, French fries and a double bacon cheese burger doesn’t feel good the next morning on your run. Once your diet is holding you back, you’ll change it.

Food is fuel and if you fuel your body with crap you will get crap back.

When I use the word diet, I don’t mean “dieting” or the restriction of calories to lose weight. I mean your food life style.

I don’t usually have to tell my runners to change their diet. Eventually, they will ask me about mine and see the difference in my running and their running. Most of the time they don’t adopt the same diet as me, which is pretty strict, but they make adjustments choosing more fresh fruits and vegetables along with lean white meats over fatty red meats.

The biggest change you can make in your diet is awareness. Think about what you are putting into your body. Most people don’t stop and think about the food they are eating. They see it, it looks good, and they eat it. The empty calories, sugar, and fat content doesn’t cross their mind.

If you are able to slow down think about what you have already eaten during the day, what the actual nutritional value is of what you are about to eat, and what you plan to eat later in the day it will make a huge difference in your diet.

I use a low carbohydrate life style. It can be hard to follow for many people, which is why I tell people about it and the benefits, but I don’t push it on people. I don’t eat starchy vegetables, breads (regardless of what it is made from), pasta, or rice. I’m very selective about the fruits I eat because most are high in sugar. My body has been taught to primarily burn fat rather than sugars as fuel.

The low carb life style allows me to recover faster, maintain  higher cognitive functioning along with mood stability throughout the day and during 100 mile events, and prevents the BONK. I can run 50 miles without taking anything but water in. If you are interested in learning more read “The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance” by Jeff S. Volek and Stephen D. Phinney. It’s only 150 pages and easy to understand.

Awareness is the essential part of eating smart.

Dance Among the Debris

The cool crisp morning air passes over my tongue and expands my belly. My arms whoosh past my waist. My feet roll gently over the earth. I want to spend as much time as I can running, but I recognize that if I want to keep running, I have to take care of other areas of my life and health, or I won’t be running long. I take every opportunity to learn more about training, injury prevention, and extra things you can do to enhance (and protect) your running.
I want to be the best runner I can be, and I’m willing to work hard, put in the miles, stretch, and strength train. Many articles and research studies come out recommending various necessary ingredients in a workout routine, including, but not limited to: stretching, nutrition, massage, ice baths, strength training, sleeping, resting, and cross training.
It is difficult to manage it all, and it is hard to know what is necessary and beneficial to YOU and your goals. There are only 24 hours in a day no matter how you cut it. Most of us have day jobs and families, which demand and deserve a lot of our attention and energy.
As a single mom, full time attorney, ultrarunner, and aspiring writer, if I stop to think about all that I want to do, and all that I currently have in motion it can be very overwhelming. I try to think about it in steps and small goals rather than as the ultimate finished masterpiece. I know that all the pieces will fall snuggly into place with patience and persistence. Sometimes I get a glimpse of all the pieces of my life swirling around in a chaotic whirlwind, and I become immobilized trapped in the eye of the storm.
The most important and helpful thing for me is to remember to be present and mindful of what is happening right now. What do I need to do right now? Of course, what I choose to do right now will influence what I can and cannot do in the future, so I must keep future goals in mind and prioritize.
For me the most important additional components in my training are injury prevention, stretching/rolling and strength training. If I can prevent an injury by adding 20 minutes to my workout each day, I will do it. An injury is going to take more time and expense than 20 minutes a day with the travel time to the physical therapist, the cost of three appointments a week for six to eight weeks. Been there, done that, no thanks.
Having a strong sense of who I am and what I want out of life keeps me from becoming too tangled. It also prevents me from taking on more projects, whether they are some fleeting interest or someone else’s request/problem. I know what I am passionate about and, which corner of the world I would like to change. I’m passionate about running and helping others conquer abuse, addiction, and domestic violence. I’ll leave the rest of the world to those who have the passion for changing it.
This does not always prevent my life from becoming a tornado-massacred trailer park. After all, I don’t live in a home populated by only me. My children’s tornados collide with mine on a regular basis and we learn to dance among the debris.

Low Carb Running

I’m going to a three-day conference on the prosecution and presentation of evidence in child abuse/neglect cases this week. My mom is staying with my boys. I love attending this conference even though the topics we hear about are difficult and emotional. The conference is held up in the mountains, so I’m able to get out and run those trails, which is a treat for me. As I was preparing for the conference, I realized I would have to pack my own food!
As I’ve mentioned before, I am a low carbohydrate athlete. I started this adventure on January 2, 2014. One of my friends, Justin, had been talking about low carb for athletes for about a year. He brought me a book about it in December, The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, by Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D, RD and Stephen D. Phinney, MD, Ph.D, I agreed to read the book and after reading it I agreed to give it a try for sixty days.
Before reading the book, I had a general understanding about the theories of low carb. But, I had also heard negative things about the whole Atkins diet. My parents had tried the low carb diet for weight loss reasons and could never maintain it. Anyway, the theory behind low carb, as I understood it before reading the book, was that your body has a lot of calories of fat to burn, much more than the calories it has from sugar. So, If you burned fat you could run stronger longer.
I read the book and found out that there is more to low carb than just being able to run stronger for longer, especially, for extreme endurance events such as the 100 miler. The human body contains about 2000 calories of sugar/glycogen stored in the muscles. Glycogen is easy to burn, and the body burns it first. This is one of the reasons it is hard to lose weight if you don’t control your sugar intake. You have to burn through those 2000 calories before you start burning the fat. If you are constantly replenishing the sugar, it is difficult to get to the fat burning.
The human body even when it only has six percent fat, has more than 40,000 calories of fat to burn. Imagine being able to tap into that resource. You would be pretty much unstoppable, right? Here’s the thing, because your body has been trained from the time you were born to burn glycogen as its primary fuel it needs time to adapt to burning fat more efficiently. It can burn fat, but it takes time to build up enough of the fat break down enzymes to use fat as your primary fuel source. I hope this make sense.
It takes approximately four to eight weeks to build up enough enzymes. Until you build enough, you may feel tired and hungry. However, after you have the enzymes you don’t lose them, and you are a fat burning machine. As an athlete, this means that you do not have to continually consume sugar during endurance events to fuel. You won’t hit the wall, crash, or bonk because your energy source is tapped into 40,000 calories rather than 2000 calories. This is great news for those of us with more sensitive stomachs that have a hard time consuming enough sugar during events to fuel our bodies. When burning fat, you really don’t need to consume much if anything. You do need more water and more electrolytes than you did burning sugar because your body does not carry as much water weight.
Your brain uses two types of fuel, sugar or fat. If you are using sugar as your primary fuel source during an endurance event and your sugar gets low, your cognitive functioning also gets sketchy. You get loopy, take more time to process information, and have a difficult time making complex decisions. At the end of a hundred mile event this is problematic and one of the reasons a pacer and crew are needed. If you are using fat as your primary source of fuel, this doesn’t happen because you don’t run out of calories to feed your brain.
Other benefits of the low carb diet are, reduced recovery time, reduces the likelihood that the body will burn protein (read muscle mass here) as a fuel source when glycogen runs out, and better respiratory functions
When I first began the low carb diet, I had to eat every two hours to not feel nauseous and shaky. My energy levels dropped and maintaining my high miles was difficult. However, after two months I was able complete a 30 mile run without any sugar supplements and if felt great. I went out the next day and did another twenty and felt amazing. I recover quickly from races, example, after the Salt Flats 100, I was running the next weekend because my body was ready to get back out there. I felt strong and refreshed. I’ve run two ultras a 50 and a 100 on the low carb diet and my mental state has remained stable. I did not have major emotional swings, which I experienced when using sugar as my fuel source. I am alert, smiling, and thinking clearly.
Weight loss is also a benefit of low carb, although, it was not one of the reasons I switched. I have lost about 15 lbs over the last five months on the diet.
The first two months were the most difficult. When I went to the grocery store, I saw everything I could not eat rather than learning new things I could eat. Once I felt the benefits of the diet on my running and really committed to a low carb diet, I started looking into recipes for my favorite things such as brownies, ice cream, and snickerdoodle cookies. I can make all of these low carb now, and love them.
It is a big adjustment and makes restraint eating much more difficult, hence the reason I am packing food for the conference. There are tons of resources online and a large variety of low carb cookbooks out there. I would not maintain this diet if it did not provide the athletic benefits it does because it is difficult. I love it now, but it has taken time and research.
If you have interest in trying low carb, I encourage you to read the book (144 pgs), get a cookbook, and learn to make your favorite treats low carb doing these things make this diet easier to maintain.