Eating for Endurance Energy

With many cyclists from throughout Jalisco and Nayarit joining the Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián bike challenge this weekend, I thought to write about carb-loading for endurance. We’ve all heard of athletes binging on pasta and bread the night before a big race or athletic event. Maybe you’re even in the habit of doing this yourself. On the other hand, there are lots of low-carb diets out there, some of which give you the green light to eat as much meat and fat as you wish but strictly limit your calorie intake from carbs.


With so much conflicting information from different camps, it can be confusing for an average person to follow and make nutritional decisions with confidence. So let’s focus on the “average person” idea for a moment. Most of us don’t follow extreme diets but try to eat in a well-balanced fashion, roughly following the concepts of a “food pyramid” with a base of whole-grain carbohydrates. These whole-grain carbohydrates include whole-wheat (pasta and bread), brown rice, oats, barley, et cetera.


Here in Mexico, corn is the foundational carbohydrate of traditional diets, and is normally consumed after a process of nixtamalization by soaking and cooking corn in water treated with limewater (calcium hydroxide solutions). This age-old process revolutionized agriculture and societies in ancient Mesoamerica and continues its influence on our modern cuisine. It allows us to consume corn with greater efficiency and for our bodies to metabolize more energy than if we were to eat corn without this preparation. Tortillas, tamales, tlacoyos, cuachala, and atole are just a few yummy ways we consume nixtamalized corn.


Great vegetable sources of complex carbohydrates include sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and plantains. How you prepare these has a lot to do with how much nutritional value they will provide you without unwanted trade-offs. Baking plantains, for example, would be a much healthier choice than frying them in oil.


But no matter which carbohydrates you choose for your endurance event preparedness, the basic premise is the same. Your goal is to maximize stored carbohydrates in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver before any major extended exercise event of 90 minutes or more. Your carb load should begin about 48 hours before your exercise. While carb-loading, you should increase your carbohydrate consumption by about 25%, from a recommended 8g/kg/day for an average healthy athlete, to about 10g/kg/day. Don’t worry about breaking out the calculator for this one; just eat more carbs than you usually would knowing that you’ll burn them off entirely during your big event. But don’t overdo it to the point that you feel bloated.


Those who load up on carbs before extended endurance rides and other exercises generally make it further into their events before feeling tired. Having a good breakfast is important too, and carbs from oatmeal, a peanut butter and honey bagel, and/or a banana are just a few good options. Breakfast before the big event isn’t the right time to eat much (if any) meat, and you definitely should stay away from anything greasy. Sorry, the tacos de birria con consomé should really wait. Also, don’t eat anything spicy and don’t overdo the caffeine.


Timing of your breakfast is important too so you can start your epic workout with your muscles and liver fueled to their peak but with your stomach light and ready. Most studies show that three to four hours from your start time is ideal.


After your champion inspired breakfast, you’ll want to keep your fuel levels topped off. 30 to 60 minutes before your start time, you should consume about 30 grams of carbs (gel, chews, or sports drinks are the modern standby) then another 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour throughout your event while keeping sufficiently hydrated.


Even the best possible pre-event dietary plan is no substitute for months of discipline to maintain yourself in optimal shape, but it will give you the extra confidence that your energy is as high as possible to take you the distance.


Missed the chance to sign up for the Puerto Vallarta to San Sebastián Bike Challenge taking place this weekend? Follow our event on social media and mark your calendar for November 21st of 2020. Signed up? Then you better start carb loading now!