Nutrition Experiment Week 3: Carbs, Part 2

JohnGeneralLeave a Comment

My week of carboliciousness has given me a lot to think about.  Carbs have a reputation of being the Jeckle and Hyde of the nutrition world: you either love them as a super-fuel, or you shy away from them in fear.  So how do I feel after my dualistic encounter? Lets find out.

Following my stellar last week of upping healthy fats, I’m making an effort to  stick with the more natural, less processed foods.  Chips, cookies, cake, and other assorted processed treats are not totally off limits, but last week, it seemed to make a huge difference incorporating more “whole” options.  So, I followed suit this week, basing my meals on rice, quinoa, bagels, and pasta.  I also brought back cereal, and added whole grain waffles for breakfast.

This week, overall carb intake was up 24%, while protein levels were down 6%.  Fat consumption trended upwards 16%, somewhat unexpectedly, but this can be attributed to preparation methods.

In the running department, I saw a definite shift in how I felt physically. My running regressed to where it had been in the control week. Sadly, I was back to the unsettled stomach and  low energy levels I’d come to expect before this experiment.

This threw me for a huge loop.  Aren’t carbs supposed to be the best thing since sliced bread?   I mean, they are sliced bread, right?

Overall, my stomach was more queasy and acidic than my previous week on fats, and my overall energy levels also took a dive from about a self-reported 8, to a 5.   On my runs, I find myself having to push harder, and ramp up my mental toughness, while also taking more walk breaks.

One factor that could be negatively impacting my running bliss this week is my decline in protein intake.  Through my research, I found a strong link between protein consumption and carbohydrate effectivness.  According to Robert Portman, Ph.D, protein stimulates insulin release, and insulin can almost double your muscles’ absorption of blood glucose.  So, when you are hauling down the trail, burning through your carb reserves like a lotto winner, it is protein-stimulated insulin that can really help you pull in vital glucose from your blood. To learn more, check out Paul Scott’s article on bonking here.  In my case, I saw around a 6% decrease in protein intake with a 24% increase in carbs.  This difference could be slowing my absorption of blood glucose, thus killing my energy levels.

Another take home message here?  Timing really is key.  As Scott notes in the article linked above,  you get the most bang for your buck if you eat within 30 minutes of exercising.  After 45 minutes, it becomes harder, and after about two hours, you’re hosed.  So, in my case, not eating for long stretches before or after a run is definitely not good, and can cause low blood glucose, lower muscle glycogen storage, and a bad attitude.

I’m ready for protein week!

All things considered, though, I’m going to call week 3 a success.  Yes, I felt worse then last week, and now I tend to view carbs with the same disdain I hold for Mr. Hyde, but this week really helped me understand what is going on in my body.  Carbs are delicious, but protein is crucial too.  A finding that is quite serendipitous because next week, I will be ramping up my protein intake.  So stay tuned, and keep running!

Week 3 Tip for beating bad runs:

Set small goals.  Sometimes I when I feel awful during a run, I start to fixate on how far I still have to go, which is usually a downer.  One solution is to set smaller goals, like “I will run to that tree, or to the end of this street”.  This is fun, and easy, and allows you to create your own mental map of your run, complete with unique landmarks.  I name certain places on my routes like “The horn or Africa”, “the owl tree”, or “the bridges of Madison county”.  Picking small goals can make it feel more manageable and gives your mind something to focus on besides being tired.

Images from