Carbohydrates – A Guide For Runners

What is a carbohydrate?

Carbohydrates are a source of energy. The more complex the carbohydrate, the longer it takes to release the energy. 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories, so it’s worth knowing how that energy is released.


Carbohydrates are usually split into two main categories, simple carbs (or sugars) and complex carbs (or starches). This is a good general rule, though there are a few bits worth getting your head around.

Carbohydrates are built from units of sugar (saccharides), the longer the chain of units, the more complex the carbohydrate. To use the sugar your body needs to chop up this chain. This means that complex carbohydrates release their energy slower than simple (short chain) ones. This gives them a lower GI value

The longer it takes to turn it into sugar, the more complex (and probably better) the carbohydrate.


What should I go for whilst I’m running?

You should try to eat mostly complex carbohydrates that provide slow release energy, concentrating on:

  • Vegetables
  • Wholegrain or wholemeal varieties (e.g. wholemeal bread/pasta etc.)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Beans and lentils

Avoid having too many:

  • Cakes, biscuits and sweets
  • Soft drinks
  • White varieties of rice/pasta/bread etc.

Do I need more carbohydrates because I’m training?

Answer: In most cases, no. It’s a good idea to have a healthy snack like a small trail mix 1-2 hours before going training, but you probably don’t need to be eating any extra carbohydrates until you are running for more than 90 minutes at a time. You’ll burn around 100 calories for every mile you run, so there’s no need to load up with extra carbohydrates!

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