Carbohydrate Intake in Ultramarathon Athletes

If we practice a resistance sport such as the ultramarathon, the intake of carbohydrates is essential, before and after the competition. They give us the energy we need and prevent us from becoming tired!
Carbohydrate Intake in Ultramarathon Athletes

Last update: 30 June, 2019

Carbohydrate intake is a topic that’s widely talked about in the world of sports, especially in those that need ‘explosiveness’. However, they’re also fundamental in endurance disciplines, such as the marathon. Find out more about it in the following article.

Carbohydrate needs for athletes who practice endurance sports

The resistance of an athlete is trained, regardless of whether it’s something innate in a person. To achieve resistance, in addition to specific exercises, you need a good diet that satisfies your body’s needs. When the body is resistant, it uses its resources effectively and doesn’t tire in a short time.

That’s why, in order to run ultra-distance or ultra-resistance races, it’s necessary for the body to be resistant. Remember an ultra-distance race lasts a minimum of six hours. To avoid physical and mental exhaustion, diet plays a more than prominent role.

Of course, daily training is essential for the body to become used to the efforts and the increase in training. Still, diet is what gives your body the ‘fuel’ it needs to carry out its routine.

The main objective of an athlete must always be their performance. This means achieving a better version of themselves, refining their abilities. As an athlete, you must strive to consume energy in a balanced way and not become tired more than necessary.

The so-called ‘extreme energy deficits’ are quite common among athletes competing in ultra-resistance disciplines, such as marathons. Extreme energy deficits are related to sustained fatigue and poor muscle recovery.

Carbohydrate intake and running

In recent years, the number of people running has increased significantly, either as a hobby or professionally. This has resulted in an increase in the races organized in cities, fields, mountains, tracks, etc.

In short and medium distance races (maximum 5 miles), carbohydrates play a more important role. When running a short distance, you can restore your energy levels by eating a full meal, such as a pasta dish.

A carbohydrate-based diet considerably reduces the typical symptoms of fatigue or even overtraining. In addition, it gives us the energy we need to complete the race or training.

Relationship between carbohydrates and resistance

As a good part of an ultra-resistance athlete’s training consists of long sessions of aerobic and muscular exercise, their body must be adapted to the “balanced” energy consumption.

The duration, intensity, and periodicity of training will determine the amount of ‘fuel’ that the body needs. Basically, there are three food groups that cannot be absent from an athlete’s diet: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

The consumption of carbohydrates during training is beneficial to preserve glycogen in the blood. Experts recommend eating up to 90 grams per training hour to improve performance.

The carbohydrate intake for people who train ultra-resistance should be between 8 and 12 grams per kilo of weight per day. For example, an athlete weighing 70 kilos has to consume between 560 and 840 grams of daily hydrates.

Is carbohydrate intake advisable before competing?

An athlete facing an ultra-race needs to eat a double serving of carbohydrates a few hours before the competition.  This will give you enough energy to endure the race. The carbohydrates provide the body with energy that isn’t spent immediately, it lasts the entire race.

Carbohydrate intake is necessary if you want to prepare for a marathon or if you want to reach the finish line in an ultra-endurance race. Now, where do you get that fuel?

Carbohydrates can be found mainly in cereals (wheat, corn, oats, rice) and its derivatives (pasta). They can also be found in sugars, legumes (such as lentils), dairy products (especially milk and yogurt) and in vegetables. Many vegetables also contain a high amount of carbohydrates, like potatoes.

The intake of carbohydrates is usually considered negative when we practice certain sports since they have the peculiarity of making us feel ‘heavy’. However, that feeling happens when we exceed the amount. If we consume what’s necessary, we’ll have the right energy to train and compete, even in disciplines in which resistance is the greatest virtue.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Cardús, J. (2015). Corazón para larga distancia: proyecto Summit Blog.
  • Oliveira, R., & Meneguz, M. (2001). Metabolismo de carbohidratos. Revista de Endocrinología y Nutrición Revista de Endocrinología y Nutrición Abril-Junio9(2), 77–85.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.