Food, Fuel & Running Blog: Carbohydrates & Running


How many times have you heard saying someone they are giving up carbohydrates to lose weight?

What's people’s problem with carbohydrates anyway? Runners love them don’t they? With their ‘Carb loading’ and pasta parties before a big race? Well??? What’s the score with this mischievous food group?

Our body takes carbohydrates from starchy foods like pasta, rice and potatoes and breaks it down into simple sugar molecules so that our cells can use it to produce energy.

Our body is also pretty smart and stores some of this carbohydrate in the liver and muscles ready for later use in the form of glycogen.

In terms of how much we store – we can get to about the 18th mile of a marathon on the stored glycogen before the infamous ‘wall’ looms and threatens to kill our race off unless we replenish stores.

Lou ShannonHowever, even if we are not running marathons it is vital to get the carbohydrate intake just right for those shorter distances and for life in general.

Too little carbohydrates and our brain can struggle to function and we experience dizziness, confusion as well as suffering low energy levels and poor performance in our runs.

However, much to my Plodders group dismay when I told them, this is not carte blanche to have pasta parties each night. Once our glycogen stores are at capacity we can store no more and any excess is converted to fat and stored in the adipose tissues which as many of know can be tough to shift.

Therefore it is essential to get that balance right between having enough fuel in your tank to sustain your training and races but not to overdo it so that you end up gaining weight.

Top tips about carbohydrates:

  1. About a third of your daily food intake should come from this food group.
  2. This equates to about six servings a day.
  3. A serving for an adult equates to 95g of pasta or 50g of rice (dried weight), 1 tennis ball sized potato and 1 slice of bread.
  4. If you are training intensely or frequently then you can increase the amount of carbohydrates to cope with the extra demand but don’t overdo it and risk the problem of storing excess as fat.
  5. Try to swap white varieties of rice and pasta for wholegrain and wholemeal to increase the quality of carbohydrates you eat.  They can offer more nutrients and the increased fibre will fill you up quicker and keep you fuller for longer.
  6. Why not swap your regular white potatoes for a sweet potato which offer quality carbohydrates as well as many more vitamins and minerals.
  7. Why not try a dish like this Pasta Carbonara recipe from Change4Life – This low fat pasta carbonara feels a lot naughtier than it actually is.  Use wholemeal spaghetti or pasta to increase quality and omit the bacon for a lower fat or vegetarian option.

Plodder Leader – Lou Shannon (AKA Mother Hen)

BSc Hons Biomedical Science

Lou set up Plodders in Halton in April 2012 with the support of Sport Cheshire through the Run England Run leader programme.   With a background in fitness, nutrition and health Lou combines her industry experience and job as a food and health officer to support her Plodding community to make positive lifestyle changes to improve their overall wellbeing.


The Eatwell Plate. NHS Choices

Change4Life Recipe finder

Useful links:

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