The Truth About Wholegrain Carbs For Runners

The Truth About Wholegrain Carbs For Runners

With so much new, conflicting, diet information every day, let’s go back to basics and look at runners’ favourite energy sources: carbohydrates.

Are you like us, a little bit fed up of reading confusing and conflicting information online about diets, nutrition, foods and what (not) to eat? Fuelling our bodies is pretty important if we want to train, race and enjoy our running. So, we want to do our best to give you some useful guidance on the basics of healthy nutrition for active runners.

The topic for today: carbohydrates and wholegrain foods.

Years ago, we were told that wholegrain carb foods like wholegrain bread, brown rice, quinoa and oats were great for runners, giving us slow-release energy to fuel our running (and plenty of fibre to keep our digestive system healthy).

But in recent years, wholegrains have been getting a bad reputation. Some dietary “experts” tell us to cut them out altogether, telling us to avoid grains in favour of totally unprocessed carb sources like fruit, starchy vegetables, root vegetables and potatoes.

What changed? The low-carb movement has persuaded many people to limit or avoid carbohydrates (even when they are active) and specific dietary camps like Paleo and Primal have put grains firmly on the do-not-eat list.

But let’s face it, who doesn’t like rice to accompany a meal, bread (or toast!) and a big bowl of porridge sometimes? Especially when you’ve done a long training run, or you’re fuelling up for a race.

So what’s the truth about wholegrain carbs for runners? Friend or foe?

A recent study from the British Journal of Nutrition suggested that as many as 80% of us aren’t eating a “healthy level” of wholegrains, probably due to the popular low-carb movements in nutrition.

Healthy choices of carbohydrate foods help us feel full, provide us with healthy nutrients and essential fibre. Avoiding wholegrains in a bid to fill up on vegetables and fruit means we could be missing out on lots of nutritional benefits. What are wholegrain carbohydrates?

Wholegrains haven’t been processed as much as refined/white carbohydrate foods, so they still have the three layers of kernel intact: bran, germ and endosperm. These bits of a grain contain fibre, antioxidants, healthy fats, protein, minerals and B-vitamins. Why would we want to avoid those in our diets? The process used to refine wholegrains into “white” carbohydrate foods removes a huge amount of the nutrients, vitamins, protein, fibre and other beneficial parts of the grain.

How much wholegrain food should runners eat? As with all things relating to nutrition, it’s highly individual, and will depend on your overall calorie intake, your lifestyle and your preferences. But try to get around 50g wholegrains per day. This could look like:

Breakfast: A bowl of porridge made from real, whole oats, and one slice wholegrain bread

Lunch: Three slices wholegrain bread or the equivalent in a wrap or sandwich thins

Dinner: One portion of wholegrain rice, quinoa, cous cous or wholegrain pasta with your meal

Do you choose wholegrain over refined versions of bread, pasta and rice? Or do you limit or avoid carbohydrates?

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