It’s getting real!
There have been some great discussions about nutrition on some of the Facebook pages that many of us Chattajackians frequent like to 100/100 page and the Chattajack “Back of the Pack” page. I am not a licensed nutritionist, dietician, yogi, guru, or man on top of a mountain. What I have done is several ultra-long distance SUP races and in the training for those events I have experienced a lot of what works and does not work for me. This 3 part article is loosely based on science and heavily biased towards the trial and error method I have used to dial in my own nutrition. Part 1 will be training, Part 2 will be pre-race/race day, and Part 3 will be Race recovery.
Part 1- “If I tell you I eat Carbs…will you still talk to me in the morning?”
Asking distance endurance athletes “what is the best strategy for nutrition” is like asking a group of 9 year old boys what their favorite candy is. The answers are all going to vaguely resemble each other but eventually it will turn into an all out Nerf-gun battle to prove who is right.
I have tried many different diets over the years (gluten-free, carb-free, free-Tibet, paleo, kinda-paleo, paleo-minus-when-a-football-game-is-on, etc…). What I have discovered is that what works FOR ME WHEN I AM TRAINING is 1) a natural food diet, 2) absolute minimal processed foods, 3) eat nothing that is advertised as fat free/sugar free and 4) that I do in fact need to eat…carbs. There, I said it. I eat CARBS. I read many articles over the years vindicating the old carbohydrate and I jumped into that carb-hating pool with both feet. I spent the better part of 2012 going sans carb. I read some very good and scientifically significant studies about athletes training their bodies to use fat as an energy source instead of carbohydrates. That sounded great, the inner fat kid I have been fighting my whole life rejoiced. However, I noticed some interesting results in my training and racing. If I was racing or doing a hard workout in the 4-7 mile range I was good. I could hammer away and felt GREAT. After 7 miles…eh, not so much. I could finish the longer distance workouts/races but I was completely drained at some point in the event…hit the wall, tapped, no mas.
As I re-read some of these studies, I discovered that training the body to use fat stores as an energy source may be a plausible way to lose weight, but FOR SOME PEOPLE it is not a good strategy for endurance events.
According to the CarboPro website:
“Carbs are the best source of fuel providing the highest energy. An athlete always has to worry about carbs during hard training because it is difficult to get enough of it. Fat yields 9 calories per gram while carbs yield only 4 calories per gram. But the 9 calories from fat comes quite slowly. In the human body, fat burns very slowly for energy. Primary fuel for exercise is adenosinetriphosphate (ATP). It is a lot easier for the body to break down muscle glycogen and blood glucose into ATP than to break down fat. Consequently, ATP is formed a lot faster from carbs than from fat. The rate of ATP synthesis from carbs is about 1.0 mol/min. From fats the rate is only 0.5 mol/min. So carbs yield twice as much energy as fats.”
Simply stated, carbohydrates are a better energy source for endurance activities then fat. I was heartbroken. How can I train to be a Calvin Klein underwear model AND do 31 miles down the Tennessee River? While I waited for Calvin to call me about the modeling thing, I came across something in the Riding Bumps book that I heard from some of our die-hard outrigger brethren before: You are training to be a paddler…if you look good in your board shorts that is a bonus. That’s not exactly what the Bumps guys say, but you get the point.
So I started experimenting with adding a limited amount of carbs back into my diet. I found that my energy levels in my longer events were much more consistent. I also felt better in between workouts and was sleeping better. I also felt like I wasn’t shocking my body as much during long races when I would carry a carbohydrate based liquid nutrition (more on that in Part 2 of this article) because my body is used to getting some limited carbs on a regular basis. Now, I am NOT saying that we should all go on a white bread and pasta bender. As humans we are omnivores which means we should eat a variety of foods. I think that a limited amount of high quality, nutrition dense carbohydrates has made a big difference in my training and my performance. I personally like multigrain breads that I make myself, black or brown rice, oatmeal in any form, buckwheat pancakes, etc. If I need to get something quick, I like the peanut butter Cliff bars but I try to stay away from those.
If you find yourself struggling to finish your long workouts or that you don’t have the energy you think you should have, take a look at your nutrition. There is a good chance there is something missing that you need. Read other articles, talk to experienced endurance athletes, and most importantly TRY NEW THINGS until you figure out what works for you. If it is stupid, and it works…then it is not stupid.
Next up: Part 2- “Nothing wrong with a roast beef and cheese on a bagel around mile 15”
Full disclosure: I am a CarboPro athlete. Certainly not one of their big guns but I receive my CarboPro products for free. Prior to becoming a CarboPro athlete I spent a full season buying and using CarboPro with my own hard earned monies.
Sources for Part 1:
Riding Bumps-The Book. Use code Mullet10 for a 10% discount at purchase!