Carbohydrates for Endurance Activity

Nutrition is an evolving science, and sometimes it can be hard to keep up with what is the current information that will help you achieve the best performance possible. Here are some basic guidelines to assist you with choosing how you use carbohydrate for your event.

High intensity activity lasting approximately 1 hour Carbohydrate mouth rinse, or small amounts of carbohydrates can result in a performance benefit.
Activity lasting up to 2 hours Aim for consumption to reach 30g/hr
Activity lasting 2-3 hours Aim for 60g/hr
Activity lasting more than 2.5 hours Up to 90g/hour

Is this way more than you would usually have?
I know for most people, the answer is yes. It all comes back to training your gut. Thinking about when I first started running long distances and using gels, I would often get stomach upsets as a result of using these gels. These days, this rarely happens. I have also seen the same thing happen to many of my clients as well; over time, their gut learns to digest these high quantities of carbohydrate more effectively, and as the research is showing, this then results in performance benefit.

The other thing to keep in mind is how intense is the activity you are doing?
For example a first time marathoner compared to an elite marathoner, the intensity they are running at during the event is likely to be incredibly different. If you are on the elite end, training for these intakes is recommended. If you are a weekend warrior or just starting out with your endurance training, consumption of much lower quantities of carbohydrates is recommended. Another way to think of it is this: Imagine you are gong for a walk for five hours, or a run for five hours. The amount of food you would need to eat during/after varies considerably. It is the same between someone who is running at sub 3.50mins/km pace, and someone running at more than 6min/km pace.

There is much discussion about low carb, high fat diets for endurance activity, and for some people, this works really well. From what the research is showing from a performance perspective though, at present, most people, with ‘nutrition training’, perform better with high carbohydrate availability.

Having a chat with your sports dietitian is advisable to ensure you consume the correct quantity for you.

Reference: Jeukendrup, A, 2014, ‘A step towards personalized Nutrition: Carbohydrate for Endurance Exercise’

About Chloe McLeod