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Health Dietary

Rice, an Athlete’s Best Friend

13 September 2022

You’re the best version of yourself when your body is fueled.

My name is Ellie Baker and I am an 800m and 1500m runner for Great Britain. I typically train twice a day, 6 days a week and the intensity of my training is very high. This means I have to take my nutrition extremely seriously in order to prevent injury and to ensure I am getting the appropriate recovery for the next day of training or racing.

As an athlete that trains every day it’s also imperative to maintain the correct energy levels by staying on top of your protein and carbohydrate intake. There are many ways in which an athlete will do this, and it will differ depending on which part of the season we are in. If we are in winter training season (October- April) we will increase our carbohydrate intake and frequently implement methods like carbohydrate loading to cope with an increased training volume in terms of miles ran per week. The extra carbohydrate intake helps refuel and replenish energy stores to cope with the increased energy being expended. Contrastingly when an athlete begins their summer racing season (May- September) the amount of mileage ran per week decreases as we enter a tapering down phase for races. As the energy expended/calories burned reduces with the less miles ran so does the amount of carbohydrates consumed as not so much fuel is needed. An athlete may also start to incorporate low residue diets before certain races too at this stage of the season. It is also important for an athlete to consider what type of carbohydrates they consume at different stages of the training day. This is due to the body’s ability to use different carbohydrates in different ways.

Carb Loading in the winter:

Firstly, let’s start with what carb loading is. Carbohydrate or carb loading is a strategy to increase your glycogen stores and improve your exercise performance. Your body stores carbohydrates (carbs) as glycogen and that glycogen is then found mostly in your muscles. Carb loading involves us eating more carbs than usual for several days, whilst decreasing the amount we exercise. Athletes use this method leading up to long training runs or races so that the body has a fantastic fuel source for the activity and the risk of fatigue is reduced. It is more effective in races/training sessions lasting more than 90 minutes, so it’s therefore not necessary for shorter durations/distances. Carb loading is a common practice amongst marathon runners due to the distance and duration of that event.

Foods to eat when carb loading:

White rice is an effective carb-loading choice because it is rich in carbohydrates and provides minimal fibre. Also, white rice is fat free which is beneficial because fat slows down digestion. White rice is considered a safe starch to consume prior to exercise, as it is easy on the stomach. Bagels, pasta, cereal, oatmeal, and bread are also great sources of carbohydrates.

Low residue diet during the race season:

The aim of a low residue diet is pre-competition weight loss without energy restriction. The strategy behind the low residue diet is to reduce intake of foods that are poorly or partially digested to limit the volume of undigested bulk (deadweight) in your stomach before you compete. This makes your power to weight ratio as good as it can possibly be whilst maintaining optimal energy. The best starchy carbs to have for your meals while on the low residue diet would be white rice, couscous, white bread, white pasta or rice cakes. These meals should be paired with tender meat, poultry or fish and soft cooked vegetables. Avoid skin and tough meats.

White rice around training:

The first two hours after a training session is the most important with regards to recovery and the sooner you can fuel the better. Consuming a carbohydrate snack as quickly as 30 minutes after training will allow the body to start replenishing glycogen stores in the body. The high glycemic value of white rice provides quick fuel which is perfect to have straight after training sessions as it will help facilitate muscle recovery at a fast rate. Many people like white rice for its high-carb, low-fibre profile. Within these two hours we can go for higher glycemic carbs to get sugar back in the blood stream quicker, which will help recovery.

Brown rice around training: 

Whole food sources of carbohydrates such as brown rice are loaded with nutrients and fibre. These carbohydrates have a steadier release of glycogen as fibre slows down digestion and therefore do not cause spikes and dips in blood sugar. Brown rice is a great whole food carbohydrate and also boasts benefits like improving heart health.

In summary, I consume white rice straight after a tough training session to replenish my glycogen stores as quickly as possible to aid my recovery and help build muscle and then later in the day I top up my carbohydrate intake with brown rice. The brown rice allows me to maintain an optimal blood sugar level, helps me feel full and keeps my digestive system running well. I increase my carbohydrate intake when my training mileage increases and selectively use the carb loading method to target long runs throughout my winter training period. As I enter my race season and my training volume reduces it is at this time, I also reduce my carbohydrate intake accordingly.

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