Sunday, March 27, 2011

One of the Three Essential Components

I don't think many would disagree with the statement that there are three essential components needed in being a healthy runner: one is proper diet(including hydration and supplementation,another is an appropriate training regimen for the individual, and lastly, adequate rest. I have written in other posts that far too many runners disregard dietary issues because they believe that lots of training gives them license to eat whenever and whatever they choose. When you stop and think about it, most realize the absurdity of that belief. What I'm going to address today is the issue of carbohydrates and the runner.It is an important issue because it potentially impacts on not only your running but your overall health. Our bodies' seem so resilient to abuses that we forget that the consequences of years of abuse can be,well...deadly. For ages runners have been told that carbohydrates should predominate their diet. The reason being is that they quickly convert to fuel thus providing the necessary energy for workouts and races. Myself as well as countless other athletes have accepted this advice as the way to go. However,one thing I have noted, as well as others runners I've spoken to over the years,is that with a carbohydrate rich diet you often feel hungry not too long after eating.Also, athletes have mentioned having difficulty maintaining their ideal body weight on a carbohydrate based diet.Some people taught,and still do to my knowledge, that 60% of calories taken in should be from carbohydrates. When searching around to find answers to my persistant hunger I repeatedly came across the writings of a Dr.Barry Sears, a biochemist. I will quickly add that the following is not an endorsement of any of his books but I found his observations to make alot of sense. When I cross checked them with a few nutritionists I know who are athletes,they confirmed that what he has to say is correct.Sears has worked in the past with elite athletes. He says: "People need to start thinking of food from a hormonal perspective, overdoing carbohydrates causes a hormonal reaction that increases our stored fat, impedes our ability to burn that fat and restricts the flow of oxygen to the muscles. Dietary fat alone isn't so disruptive but the hormone insulin can be,one of the quickest ways to trigger an increase of it is by eating too many carbohydrates." Sears, as many of you might know, advocates a diet consisting of 40% carbohydrates,30% protein and 30% fat.This is also the way to go for runners. The reason being is that a more even distribution of these three dietary components means more even hormone levels to sustain steady endurance efforts. An exercising body's most ready and burnable fuel is muscle glycogen,a stored form of glucose. Since the best source of glycogen is carbohydrates, the conclusion has always been the more carbohydrates the better for athletes.However,too much carbohydrate intake leads to too much glucose consequently stimulating the release of insulin.This all leads to the excess glycogen being transported to the liver and eventually being stored into the adipose tissue of fat cells. So,the bad news,taking in more carbos doesn't mean more energy it means your body has more "sugar" to convert to fat. Sears states that "insulin secreted as a result of a carbo rich meal takes the now converted glucose out of your bloodstream causing you to feel hungry way before you think you should. The craving that comes 90 minutes after a huge pasta meal means that the insulin has carried the glucose away and it's preventing your body from getting at the glycogen that's stored in your liver. Hence,your sugar-starved brain is telling you more,now!" Can I ever relate to what he just said. Sears claims that when protein is eaten with and in near equal amounts to carbohydrates a steadier level of blood sugar is maintained thus avoiding the feeling hungry not too long after eating syndrome. "A good rule of thumb is that whatever size serving of low-fat protein you eat should be accompanied by twice the quantity of a high-fiber carbohydrate source,something like steamed vegetables," writes Sears. He believes the best types of protein are chicken,fish,low-fat cottage cheese,egg whites and soy products. Good carbohydrates include broccoli,spinach and some fruits such as cantaloupe,strawberries and grapefruit. Unlike what some nutritional faddists are advocating,or better put,discouraging these days, is that fat is an essential component of an athlete's diet. Fat is a source of added energy when your body runs low on glycogen. Needless to say unsaturated fats (vegetable oils,nuts,nut butters,avocados) are preferable to fat derived from animal sources.In case you are wondering,the carbohydrates that convert to sugar in the bloodstream the fastest are: bananas,bread,rice,raisins,corn chips and bran cereals. Those carbohydrates that do so significantly slower are:apples,beans broccoli,cantaloupe,cauliflower,peanuts,plums,peaches and grapes. Since being aware of the above and making the necessary changes, I have definitely noticed a reduction in hunger, less of a tendency to gain weight and not becoming totally depleted(bonking) during long runs over tough terrains. Tomorrow another article will be posted.

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