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From Good To Great - The Power of Carbohydrates For Endurance Athletes

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

When it comes to competitive endurance sports like cycling or triathlon, sports nutrition really is a tool that can take an athlete from good to great.

I for one can say that I've ridden in many group rides where I certainly was not the fittest, but because I put careful attention into my nutrition strategy, I finished stronger than my fitter co riders. Trust me, when you know you aren't the strong link, you do everything you can to maximize your potential!

We all know that before an important race where you'll be pushing your limits and hoping for a great personal performance and maybe even a win, you'll need to have a good strategy to keep your carbohydrate intake where it needs to be. Of course if the race is only an hour long, you can do most of your preparation off of the bike, bringing along a bottle of water or sports drink, depending on the scenario. But if you're headed out for a 90 minute plus race, you'll want a practiced strategy in place. Don't be that person shoving 5 extra gels in their jersey pocket because they have 'no idea" how much they will need. The more you know the more confident you can be about your race. Be in the know.

3 Tips to keep in mind when it comes to carbohydrates for race day:

1) PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE! Whatever you will be eating and drinking on race day, use that in training when possible. Practice a mock race day scenario at least once, where you'll consume the same quantity of carbohydrate that you will on race day (assuming it's a race scenario you can mimic - not RAAM). Avoid eating and drinking new sports drinks and foods on race day. This way you can do your best to minimize GI distress. No surprises needed, race day has enough of those!

2) Focus on easily digestible carbohydrates. This isn't the time to pull out the high fiber broccoli leftovers from last night's dinner, or to load up on fat and protein. By focusing on easy to digest carbohydrates you will get the energy you need into your muscles more quickly and reduce the likelihood of GI distress.

3) Drink your hydration and eat your carbohydrates. Your sports drink will have carbohydrates in it, but don't add double the recommendation to get more. Sports drinks are made with 4-7% carbohydrate solutions for optimal hydration. Get your additional carbohydrates from food, and choose what has worked well for you during training already.

If you've been getting popped on short kickers or unable to hit your top end, time after time, it's time to take a closer look at your carbohydrate intake and glycogen stores. Not only will you perform better on race day with optimal carbohydrate intake, but your training will be better, which means you'll be making gains all of the time.

Check in with your strategy. Do you have one? If not, it's time to start paying attention. When it comes to endurance sports, the devil IS in the details.


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