You’ve probably heard them referred to as good carbs or bad carbs, but what makes carbs good or bad? More importantly, which carbs will help you win races?
Essentially, good carbs are carbohydrates with a low glycemic index (GI), and bad carbs are carbs with a high glycemic index, generally processed sugars. The glycemic index is a measure of how much a certain carbohydrate raises your blood glucose levels after a meal (postprandial glucose levels, for those wanting to sound impressive at the next dinner party). However, the GI is actually not the best measure of energy release. A better measure is slowly and rapidly digestible starches.
Not all carbohydrates are starches, but foods that are high in starch are ideal to be eating when preparing for a race.
The speed of digestion ranges from almost immediate to not at all. If you’re performing endurance activities, ideally you want to be eating slowly digestible starches beforehand. These include al dente pasta, parboiled rice, and barley. Basically, the less cooked the starch is, the slower the energy release; this because cooking breaks down cell walls, which increases the rate at which your body can metabolise the intracellular sugars. The slower the digestion, the more sustained the energy release, meaning the longer it takes for you to fatigue.
In contrast to the preparation before endurance activities, the goal in post-exercise recovery is to regain energy as fast as possible. This is why recovery gels are almost pure glucose. You want to be eating the most processed sugars you can find, for example, white rice or white bread, because they’re highly processed and can be digested faster.
Nutrition is an important factor to consider for your training and event performance, so check out our other articles on The Link for a more in-depth in discussion about carbohydrates or recovery, and let us know in the comments section if there’s any other nutrition topics you’d like covered.
Miao, M., Jiang, B., Cui, S. W., Zhang, T., & Jin, Z. (2015). Slowly digestible starch—a review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 55(12), 1642-1657.