Carbs Not Fat a Better Booster for Exercise Performance

Posted 02/15/2016 | By HealthCorps

If you exercise religiously, then it’s likely that you are undermining optimal performance when you cut out grains. If you’ve been buying into recent food trends and trendy diets, then you may be slashing carbohydrates, especially grain carbs from your diet. There’s no doubt that most American are consuming too many carbs, kids too, and the types of carbs being consumed are predominantly being sourced from processed, highly refined carbs. But removing an entire food group from your diet is not a great idea, nor is it typically sustainable, long term. Very often when people do give in and reintroduce grain-based carbs to their diet, they consume huge quantities of poor quality choices.

Recent studies seemed to suggest that fat stores in our bodies offer the best source of fuel because the reserve is larger than the body’s carbohydrate reserve. A new study suggests the opposite. Muscles may actually rely on carbohydrate reserves during long duration exercise. The new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggests that during high intensity, prolonged running, carbohydrates are the body’s main (and best) energy source.

If you are an avid exerciser, and engage in endurance sports, with a typical fitness session lasting longer than 60 minutes you would be better served to consume grains rather than cut them from your diet as many do. In the study, researchers blocked the body’s ability to access fat for fuel. Men who were competitive marathoners ran on a treadmill until they were exhausted, at a pace of “95% of their best marathon time.” They were then given a carbohydrate meal before and during the run, and they were given nicotinic acid to prevent the use of fat stores during the exercise effort.

The researchers found that blocking the fat reserves did not affect the distance the runners covered before exhaustion hit. Blocking fat access also did not affect their ability to access carbohydrate reserves. The researchers were able to estimate that carbohydrates contributed 83-91% of the total energy used during the treadmill runs. The conclusion of the researchers is that for high-intensity, long duration runs, the body prefers carbohydrates as the fuel source, regardless of whether the exerciser has eaten or not. So the strategy of any endurance athlete should be to build carbohydrate availability in his or her body, before and during the exercise effort or a competition, to optimize any performance that lasts for more than 60 minutes.

Carbohydrate grain superstars include:

• 100% whole wheat
• Ancient grains like kamut, amaranth, buckwheat, farro, quinoa
• Rye
• Maize
• Brown rice
• Whole oats (slow cook oatmeal)
• Wild rice
• Black rice
• Millet

Beans and legumes also contain carbohydrates, and of course fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates as well. Peas, corn and potatoes are considered starchy vegetables and would also fall into this carbohydrate superstar category. Of course, athletes and even casual exercisers should consult with a dietician or nutritionist who specializes in sports nutrition to create a plan that addresses calories, ratios of protein-carbohydrates-fat, and a plan that takes into account health issues, weight goals and any other important considerations.

Teens that exercise or play sports would benefit from the information this study offers so they optimize long workouts and training sessions, as well as performances during competitions. Teens do need to understand which grains they should be eating as well as appropriate portion sizes.

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