NUTRITION STRATEGIES TO INCREASE YOUR CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE ON RACE DAY
Updated: 7 days ago
By Annie Bothma, December 2022
Research shows that consuming carbohydrates during training improves your ability to maintain high-intensity efforts for longer, but recently athletes have started pushing the boundaries of what use to be the norm when it comes to fuelling during exercise. Athletes are now even experimenting with intakes beyond the recommended 60-90 g of carbohydrates per hour. This post will outline some nutritional strategies you can use to help you increase the amount of carbohydrates you consume on race day so you can get to the finish-line faster!
WHY ATHLETES NEED TO CONSUME CARBS DURING TRAINING
Convincing evidence from numerous studies indicates that carbohydrate feeding during exercise of about 60-minutes or longer can improve endurance capacity and performance. In fact, even exercise of shorter durations can be improved with rinsing a carbohydrate solution and spitting it out! Although this will not have any effect on the glycogen availability, since glucose is a key substrate for the brain, it may help reduce central nervous system fatigue. This shows ergogenic benefits of carbohydrate stretches beyond maximizing endurance performance through the mechanism of adequate muscle glycogen and blood glucose levels, since it has also been linked to the activation of brain centers involved in motor control. It may help reducing the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) an athlete is experiencing.
RECOMMENDED CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE PER HOUR
Exercise lasting less than 1-hour: Mouth rinse or nothing.
Exercise lasting 1-2 hours: 30 - 60g of CHO/h
Exercise lasting greater than 2-2.5 hours: 60 - 90g of CHO/h
Often elite athletes often take beyond the 90 g of CHO/h, but it is important to gradually increase your carbohydrate intake during training to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort. Start where you are right now and increase incrementally over the course of weeks leading up to your race.
WHY MORE CARBS IS BETTER
Now that you that you understand the importance of carbohydrates a bit better you can start thinking of how you are going to improve your ability to take on more carbohydrates on race day for peak performance!
Greater carbohydrate intake has been associated with improved performance.
If you are aiming to consume more than 60g of carbohydrates per hour it is best to use different types of carbohydrates, since limitations to exogenous carbohydrate oxidation appear to be in the absorptive process most likely because of a saturation of carbohydrate transporters. By using a combination of carbohydrates that use different intestinal transporters for absorption (multiple transportable carbohydrates), carbohydrate delivery and oxidation can be increased. Studies demonstrated up to 65% higher exogenous carbohydrate oxidation rates of multiple transportable carbohydrates, such as glucose:fructose combinations during exercise compared with a single carbohydrate source such as glucose only.
Here are some practical nutritional strategies to increase your carbohydrate intake during racing.
TRAIN WITH CARBOHYDRATES
Practice with carbohydrates during training to increase the gut’s tolerance. Athletes should be consistently practicing their race fueling plan during training. It is advised to test your race fueling in a variety of different weather conditions and training sessions. Athletes should also not just practice fueling during easier runs or rides when it is more comfortable to take in fuel, it should also be practiced while working at race pace intensities and in warm hot conditions, like expected on race day. Practicing race fuelling during training is the key to nailing your nutrition on race day.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT FUEL SOURCES
Choose fuel sources that are high in CHO, low in fiber, protein and fat, and easily digested and absorbed. Sports products may be more convenient and better suitable than real food options, especially when working with an athlete who has a sensitive GI system. Athletes can use a combination of sports drinks, bars, gels and chews to get their carbohydrates during training.
When you are choosing your fuelling products or foods, consider factors like:
Your GI tolerance
Your personal taste preferences
What will be offered on the course and the frequently of aid stations on the course
The expected weather on race day
TRIAL AND ERROR
Practice using different sports products such as fluids, bars, gels and blocks. Experiment with different bands, flavors in training to find preferences and tolerance. You can even try real food like bananas, dates or baby food. Athletes should also test out the specific products that will be available on the course to trial if it will be well tolerated. Remember, nothing new on race day!
USE DIFFERENT CARBOHYDRATE SOURCES
Higher intakes of CHO are associated with better performance. If possible, it is advised that athletes work up towards 90g of CHO per hour (some athletes can even tolerate more!).
Using products that provide multiple-transportable carbohydrates, such as glucose and fructose mixtures, will achieve the highest rates of oxidation of carbohydrates consumed during exercise, since glucose alone has a maximal absorption rate of about 60g/hour. This should be gradually increased and implemented in training over the course of the week. The gut should be able to adapt over time to handle greater amounts of carbohydrate and fluids, which will allow the athlete to be better fueled and hydrated come race day.
Athletes should avoid getting dehydrated, as this may accelerate GI symptoms and will increase the rate of muscle glycogen use. Try consuming enough fluids with CHO sources such as blocks, gels and bars. This will help reduce the carbohydrate concentration and osmolality of the stomach. It is advised that athletes read the specific recommendations of the package of the different products to make sure the adequate amount of fluids are being consumed as prescribed on the nutritional label. Electrolytes drinks with added sodium can help stimulate thirst, encourage drinking and prevent dehydration.
Dehydration can also lead to a loss of appetite which will impact an athlete’s ability to stick to the race fueling plan and consume enough carbohydrates to maintain the desired intensity.
KEY TAKE AWAYS
There is no more arguing that carbs are key for high performance, but getting in the recommended amounts of carbohydrates per hour can be hard for some athletes, especially if they are prone to GI distress. Some athletes are able to consume more than the recommended 60-90 g of carbohydrates per hour, so it can be done, but it requires some practice and a bit of planning.
Some practical nutritional strategies that you can use to help you increase the amount of carbohydrates you consume on race day, include:
Training with carbohydrates: Practice with carbohydrates during training to increase the gut’s tolerance.
Choosing the right fuel sources: Sports products may be more convenient and better suitable than real food options, especially when working with an athlete who has a sensitive GI system.
Trial and error: Practice using different sports products such as fluids, bars, gels and blocks. Experiment with different bands, flavors in training to find preferences and tolerance.
Use different carbohydrates sources: Using products that provide multiple-transportable carbohydrates, such as glucose and fructose mixtures, will achieve the highest rates of oxidation of carbohydrates consumed during exercise, since glucose alone has a maximal absorption rate of about 60g/hour.
Avoid dehydration: Athletes should avoid getting dehydrated, as this may accelerate GI symptoms and will increase the rate of muscle glycogen use.
Try implementing some of these strategies on your next long run or ride so you can increase your carbohydrate intake and improve your performance at your next key race!
Multiple transportable carbohydrates and their benefits (Jeukendrup, 2018)
Sport Nutrition, Third Edition. (2019) by Asker Jeukendrup, Micheal Gleeson