High carb foods for running

Updated July 18, 2017

Runners need to fuel themselves with complex carbohydrates that are absorbed slowly by the body and provide a steady source of energy. Some high carb foods give instant energy but cause blood sugar to spike and crash, affecting athletic performance. Since not all high-carb foods offer the same sporting and nutritional benefits, it is important to know which are best for runners. These include whole grain products, vegetables, beans, low-fat dairy foods and energy bars.

Whole Grain Products

The Mayo Clinic reports that a long-distance runner's muscles may run out of glycogen after 90 minutes of intensive exercise. To maximise performance, it suggests that a runner have a carbohydrate-loading meal plan. This plan of high-carb foods for running includes whole grain products. Consumption of barley cereal and bagels, whole wheat bread, wheat crackers and brown rice are advised. The Mayo Clinic further adds that starch from whole grain products is probably the most important energy source in an athlete's diet. Of all high-carb foods, whole grain products are broken down easily by the body and stored as glycogen. Other whole grain starchy products that are complex carbohydrates are whole wheat pastas and plain oatmeal.

The U.S. Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health report that high-carb foods containing simple carbohydrates, like the refined sugars found in candy, carbonated soda and maple syrup, provide calories but little nutrition. They are not recommended for runners.

Vegetables and Beans

The Marathon Guide suggests that an endurance runner needing a high-carb diet should eat, in addition to 15 servings of grain products, at least six servings of vegetables daily. A serving can be one cup of leafy raw vegetables, a half cup of chopped vegetables or ¾ cup vegetable juice. It advises that starchy vegetables are best, such as corn and peas, because they provide greater amounts of carbohydrates necessary for optimal running performance.

Dried beans, such as garbanzo beans or lentils, also provide high amounts of complex carbohydrates and replenish a runner's muscle glycogen, a source of a runner's energy.

Low-fat Dairy Foods

Low-fat dairy products are also good high-carb foods for runners. The Marathon Guide suggests at least five servings daily of low-fat dairy foods.

Suggested servings are one cup of low-fat milk, one cup of low-fat yoghurt or 42.5gr of low-fat cheese. Together with whole grains, vegetables and beans, it advises that a runner should add low-fat dairy foods to a diet that comprises 70 per cent high carbs.

Energy Bars

High-carb energy bars are another good choice for runners. These bars are high in carbs, which give energy, but low in protein and fat, which are more difficult to digest or absorb during exercise.

It is important, according to Roadrunners Sports, to follow bites of energy bars with plain water. If an energy bar is followed by a sports drink, a runner could be overloaded with carbohydrates, which would slow down the process of absorption and yield less energy for running.

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About the Author

Francine Juhasz has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is a Qi Gong and yoga teacher, health and nutrition freelance journalist and featured self-help and life-skills speaker. For more than 30 years she has conducted programs, workshops, seminars and private counseling sessions in emotional, mental, marital and sexual health and fitness in universities, elder-care communities and community centers in both the U.S. and Europe.