Nutrition

Ask Stacy: Real Food vs. Gels and Carb Consumption for Female Athletes

This week Dr. Stacy Sims talks real food versus gels, and post-workout carbs for female athletes. 

Q. I’ve read you don’t like gels and suggest eating real food, which is all well and good on a bike, but how can you fuel with real food on a run?

The goal on the bike is to fuel for the bike but also to have a bit of residual fuel in your digestive tract to draw on for the run. On the run, the goal isn’t to supply extra calories for future, but to keep blood sugar elevated, without dips, to maintain pace. Turn your focus to dividing the run into thirds: the first third, if you can, have small bites of soft bars, figs, or smooshed soft pretzels before moving onto energy chews. In the second third, switch it to soft jelly candies/energy chews, and on the last third of the run this is where you’re looking for quick hits of sugar that won’t upset your gut and are quick to hit the system—this is where glucose tablets come into play. On hot days, using menthos chewy mints are a great option, as they provide quick hits of sugar with a cooling perception of the menthol. (just don’t follow them up with a Coke)!

Q. What is a good guideline for carb consumption amounts post intense workout for female athletes?

In all honesty, this is a hard/tricky question to answer!  Given that women show a lower total carbohydrate oxidation (rate of burning carbs) during endurance exercise than men, and with high intensity exercise, women appear to have a lower rate of glucose disappearance, which leads to a greater post-exercise hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. In addition, depending on the type of exercise and/or the phase of the menstrual cycle in which the exercise is performed, women may spare muscle glycogen during exercise. Even with the evidence to indicate significant sex differences exist both during and post-exercise, the current guidelines on post-exercise carbohydrate intake is based upon younger male endurance athlete data and generalized to all populations (older men, all-age women). To have specific grams per kg post-exercise guidelines for women would be ideal, but currently there is no data to support this. The best way to think about refueling and replenishing glycogen for women is to eat protein with carbohydrate soon after finishing your session, then have a real meal within 90 minutes comprised of complex sources of carbohydrate.