Carbs key to a successful long-distance race?

Posted at 10:49 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 10:49:24-04

When I talk about training for long-distance races, people frequently ask me how I fuel up.

It’s a good question, and I don’t really have a good answer. I haven’t eaten meat, except for some types of fish, for the better part of two decades. I try to be diligent about eating my fruits and veggies, but I love sweets and high-quality beer. (To the runners who limit their alcohol intake in the weeks leading up to a race, I salute you. You have more discipline than I.)

So while I don’t really have a firm strategy for eating when I’m training for a half-marathon or a marathon, I do indulge in my share of carbs—bagels, pita bread, cookies, dessert—figuring I need the energy boost. My absolute favorite pre-race breakfast is a bagel with peanut butter and banana on it. It’s never let me down.

That’s why I was intrigued by this article that recently appeared in Runner’s World. Runner and journalist AC Shilton tested out a low-carb, high-fat diet to see if that could help her achieve her goal of a sub-4 hour marathon. The theory is that such a diet will help train your body to use fat for fuel.

The diet calls for 50 to 70 percent of calories to come from fat, up to 20 percent from protein, up to 20 percent from vegetables, and five percent from fruits and starches.

A life without bagels? Ugh.

Shilton did it, and she lost 13 pounds over the course of her 16-week marathon training plan. She also ran a 16-minute PR (personal record), though she didn’t break four hours.

The experiment didn’t translate into a lifestyle change for her.

“I loved the steady supply of energy that fat adaptation gave me, and I’m the leanest I’ve been in several years. But I missed drinking beers with friends and polishing off midnight pizzas with my husband. I hated feeling guilty about grapes. And I pined for cake. A lot,” Shilton wrote. 

I guess her post-marathon beer probably tasted pretty good! 

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