Carbohydrates are an incredibly important performance enhancing nutrient when it comes to supporting performance.
Your carb intake is very much dependent on the type, duration and intensity of your sport. I.e. the greater the duration or higher the intensity, the more carbs you need.
When it comes to ultra-endurance events where you’re running or cycling for over 3 hours, the general recommendation is to consume 90g of carbohydrates per hour for the duration of the event. This is to not only maximise performance, but to keep gut issues to a minimal.
Considering mountain marathons consist of varying terrain, higher exercise loads, fatigue and increased muscle damage, is there any utility in further increasing carbs to 120g/hour to support performance and recovery?
In a study by Virbay et al (2020), they recruited 21 high level/elite mountain runners and tested three different carb intakes during a mountain marathon race:
Group 1 = 60g carbs/hr (low)
Group 2 = 90g carbs/hr (recommended)
Group 3 = 120g carbs/hr (high)
To keep everything fair, all marathon runners followed the same dietary guidance apart pre and post event, but only changed the amounts of carbs during as per above groups.
The researchers found that 120g/hour can limit exercise induced muscle damage, reduce internal exercise load, decrease perceived exertion and improve race finishing times when compared to having 60g and 90g per hour.
Another study of similar characteristics found that 120g, vs 90g and 60g decreased neuromuscular fatigue and improved high intensity running capacity 24 hours after the event (Urdampilleta et al, 2020).
Therefore, suggesting that this quantity of carbs per hour may be more appropriate in events that have higher metabolic and physiological demands.
It is worth noting that all participants had ‘trained the gut’ to be able to tolerate higher amounts of carbohydrates per hour. If this is not practiced and tested prior, you will highly likely shit yourself during the event. Therefore, managing gastrointestinal issues is paramount for success.
Until now, we’ve always had 90g/hour as an upper limit requirement. However, this study does invite the thought of furthering increasing carbs…assuming you can handle it.
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