I was recently asked: ‘do I need to carbo load if my diet is high in carbohydrates anyway?’ With the Bupa Great Birmingham Run having just taken place there’s a lot of talk about what is the best fuel for exercise.
Food can be categorised into carbohydrates, fats or proteins and along with water these will provide all our energy requirements for living. It is not just marathon runners who need the energy to fuel muscle contractions, so whatever your chosen exercise, carbohydrate is probably the most important source of fuel. Carbohydrates break down into smaller sugars (glucose) which can be stored in the muscles & liver as glycogen. If you have more glucose than you can either use as energy or store as glycogen it will be converted to fat. The glycogen will be the preferred fuel for all activity. Once this starts to run out (the body can store enough for between one and one & a half hours of activity) fat can help but some glycogen is still required to break down the fat into energy. So the amount of carbohydrate you eat will affect how much glycogen is stored in your muscles & liver and in turn affect your performance. Therefore, if you are going to be exercising for more than one and a half hours you would certainly benefit from ‘carbo loading’ no matter what your regular diet is like.
For those new to exercise the message is, even if you want to lose weight, don’t reduce your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, complex in particular are the most energy efficient fuel. A low carbohydrate diet will leave you feeling lethargic & tired with little interest in exercise. So eat plenty of breads, rice & pasta!