One of the most common mistakes made by amateur endurance athletes is a failure to adjust carbohydrate consumption according to their training needs. This is most commonly seen at the breakfast table where often the same breakfast is consumed irrespective of whether it is to be followed by a long day in the saddle, a sedentary day in the office or even a big day on the sofa. Most endurance athletes are familiar with the importance of carbohydrate for endurance performance so frequently the serving size has increased in order to fuel long training and races, and people are happy that they have made a healthy breakfast choice like
porridge rather than a sugar frosted cereal. The potential problem here is that even a ‘healthy’ carbohydrate meal like porridge is a relatively dense carbohydrate load even before it has been ‘enhanced’ with dried fruit and jam. If you are in the middle of a tough training block then this could be just the ticket to replace lost glycogen stores and fuel an important training session. However, if the day is more likely to be spent sat behind a desk, hunger often reappears mid-morning just as the less athletic office staff are distributing the biscuits and cakes to ‘put them on’ to lunch. Having received another carbohydrate fix our keen amateur looks for a healthy option at lunch but usually goes for the pasta option because endurance athletes eat pasta. This cycle is often repeated in the afternoon, frequently with a deliberate attempt to eat a carbohydrate snack, because there is an intention to train after
There can be several ‘traps’ with high carbohydrate foods, whilst undoubtedly important for sports performance, there is no such thing as an ‘essential carbohydrate’ yet consumption can be rather addictive making it easy to consume a calorie excess that quickly increases body fat. Increasingly there has been a realisation that many of the beneficial adaptations to improve endurance performance are dependent on being at least a little ‘empty’. Many elite competitors now routinely include fasted or low carbohydrate sessions within their training in order to improve endurance capacity. Whereas in the past the advice to endurance athletes was to constantly top up carbohydrate stores in order to complete quality training, modern athletes now modulate their carbohydrate consumption according to the needs of training. The maxim is possibly summarised as to consume the minimum amount of carbohydrate necessary to achieve training objectives which in some cases may be nothing. It is possibly best to think of carbohydrate foods simply as fuel for hard training sessions, if
no training is planned there is an opportunity to eat smaller nutrient dense meals based around good quality protein and vegetables. In the case of a breakfast choice a couple of boiled eggs with a small portion of fruit or salad is likely to keep hunger at bay on sedentary days longer than a bowl of porridge. Or if that’s too much of a shock, try a smaller portion of oats, substitute some oat bran (higher fibre, less carbohydrate) and add some protein powder.