Historically, endurance athletes have tended to consume relatively large amounts of carbohydrates to fuel both training and race performance. This method seems sensible given the performance benefits that carbohydrates permit. Not only do some of the fastest runners in the world have a very high carbohydrate diet, in itself not necessarily an argument for a high-carbohydrate diet, carbohydrates are necessary to fuel high intensity activity. Thus, where high-intensity activity is required, carbohydrates are also necessary.
The Case for Some Lower Carbohydrate Meals
Recent research (Morton et al. 2009; Bartlett et al. 2013) has demonstrated that periods or phases of lower carbohydrate intake may also confer benefits to endurance athletes, alongside periods of high carbohydrate intakes. More specifically, intentionally lowering/restricting the amount of carbohydrate available to the athlete for some period of the season/month/week or even day, may foster adaptations that potentially benefit performance.
This increase in performance would appear to be a consequence of an improvement in the athlete’s ability to oxidize fat (and generate ATP) at a higher workload, helping to spare muscle glycogen for more intense activities/sprints, and delay the onset of fatigue. In short, some form of training in a (deliberately) low or lower carbohydrate state, despite a potential decline in the intensity of that particular training session, may foster adaptations that assist performance in the long-term.
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Jack Matthews is an applied nutritionist, having gained qualifications in Applied Sports Nutrition. Based in London, he holds a BSc and MSc in Sports Sciences and a diploma in Teaching. He provides nutrition advice to individuals and teams and is the creator of Discovery Nutrition. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
Morton et al. 2009. Reduced carbohydrate availability does not modulate training-induced heat shock protein adaptations but does upregulate oxidative enzyme activity in human skeletal muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106, 1513 – 1521
Van Proeyen et al. 2011. High fat diet overrules the effects of training on fiber-specific intramyocellular lipid utilization during exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 111, 108 – 116
Bartlett et al. 2013. Reduced carbohydrate availability enhances exercise-induced p53 signaling in human skeletal muscle: implications for mitochondrial biogenesis. American Journal of Physiology, 304, 450 – 458
Margolis and Pasiakos, 2013. Optimizing intramuscular adaptations to aerobic exercise: effects of carbohydrate restriction and protein supplementation on mitochondrial biogenesis. Advances in Nutrition, 4, 657 – 664
Hawley et al. 2011. Nutritional modulation of training-induced skeletal muscle adaptations. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110, 834 – 8452
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