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Most people know that calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones, but this certainly still holds true, there are many other nutrients that also play an important role in keeping bones strong. One that might come as a surprise is…… carbohydrates. That’s right. Eating enough carbohydrates can help keep your bones strong.  However, far too many athletes have an unnecessary fear of carbohydrates. Read on to find out on how carbohydrates impact bone health.

During exercise, the body uses its carbohydrate stores to fuel exercise. Many endurance athletes complete exercise without consuming carbohydrates before exercise or if exercising for prolonged periods, throughout exercise, such as a runner training first thing in the morning before breakfast. However, consuming carbohydrates before and after exercise reduces markers of bone breakdown that are seen when exercise is performed without consuming carbohydrates. In more extreme cases, endurance athletes following a high fat, low carb ketogenic diet have both increased markers of bone breakdown and reduced markers of bone formation.  While the exact reason for this is not yet known, it is likely due to the hormonal response that occurs when exercising without consuming enough carbohydrates.

In order to promote bone health, a meal or snack containing carbohydrates should be consumed about 1-4 hrs prior to exercise. For instance, if you are exercising at 2:00 pm then lunch should contain carbohydrates rich foods. Consuming carbohydrates prior to exercise is especially important for athletes that exercise first thing in the morning because carbohydrate stores will have been depleted during sleep. The amount of carbohydrates that you should eat will depend on the length of your training session. If you have an easy workout, then a banana, granola bar or Gatorade may be enough. If you are exercising for a longer period, then something more substantial like oatmeal or a bagel may be needed.  Most athletes need to test out different meals and snacks to figure out what works best for them.

Depending on how long and how intense your exercise session, you may also need to consume carbohydrates while exercising. Generally, if exercising for longer than an hour, you should aim for 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. If you are exercising for greater than 2.5 hours, then you may want to consume up to 90 grams of carbohydrate per hour. One gel typically contains about 20 grams of carbohydrates, so that’s about 2-4 gels per hour of exercise. Some other carb containing foods to eat or drink while exercising include sport drinks, bananas, fig newton bars or energy chews. My personal favourite is Honey Stinger waffles.

There is no need to fear carbs. For endurance athletes, carbs not only offer performance benefits, but also help keep bones healthy and strong. Be sure to eat a carb rich meal or snack prior to exercise, and if exercising for a prolonged period, plan to also eat carbs while exercising.

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Megan Kuikman

Learn to fuel your health and performance with Megan Kuikman, Registered Dietitian. Megan provides professional nutrition advice that you can trust. To work with Megan, call: 519-802-9445 or e-mail megankuikmanRD@gmail.com.

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