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        Carbohydrates: Going with the Whole Grain

Published Thursday, May 22, 2008 on Ironman.com

It's no secret that carbohydrates are the "bread winners" when it comes to energy currency in the Ironman athletes diet. It's been long understood that the carbohydrate rich foods provide 50 to 70% of the calories needed for athletes logging numerous hours training and racing.

Sports nutrition resources agree the best way to meet carbohydrate needs is by consuming fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains on a daily basis. Most athletes know what fruits, vegetables and legumes are. Surprisingly there are many misconceptions of what constitutes a whole grain food source. What are whole grains? Confusion about whole grain food is ongoing. All too often I see folks tricked into thinking certain foods are wholesome grain products because of the rich brown color of the bread (added molasses), token pieces of oats sprinkled on top of muffins and/or the clever use of the words “hearty grain”, “ multigrain”, “stone ground” to name a few. In order to add more whole grains to the diet, an athlete must understand the true definition of a whole grain product.

According to the Whole Grains Council, “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g. cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.”

Whole grains foods contain all three parts of the grain, which are the bran, the germ and endosperm. The outer layer of the grain is known as the bran. It’s the main source of the grain’s fiber. The bran layer hosts 50 to 80 per cent of the grains phytochemicals and minerals. The germ layer is a significant source of B vitamins, vitamin E along with antioxidants, phytochemicals and trace minerals. The endosperm (center of the grain) provides complex carbohydrates, protein and smaller amounts of B vitamins and minerals.

Food products that contain all parts of the grain, even if the grain is not intact (ex: flour), can be labeled as whole grain. Products that contain refined grains (the endosperm only has been grounded into flour) are not as wholesome as whole grain flours. Since the nutrient dense part of the grain has been removed in the refining process this makes the strong case for why whole grain products are superior to refined food products.

There are a couple of exceptions. Some refined grains do have a small place in an athlete’s diet. Refined grains (due to the higher glycemic index) may be used post workouts to help with glycogen repletion. Because refined grains have the main fiber source removed, these foods may be more GI friendly the day or two before a race when an athletes desires less fiber.

Carbohydrate Whole Grain Recommendations

Daily carbohydrate needs for endurance athletes can vary significantly depending on the event they are preparing for and the phase of training. Carbohydrate recommendations remain at three to five grams per pound body weight per day. The lower end of the range is for active rest days or recovery weeks with < 12 hours of training while the mid to higher end of the range better suits 3+ hour training days and 14 to 20+ hour training weeks.

Whole grains can be a significant contributor to the daily carbohydrate needs. Most major countries have incorporated whole grain intake recommendations into their public health guidelines. The 2005 US Dietary Guidelines suggest Americans aim for three servings of whole grains per day (or about 48 grams of whole grains daily) or encourage individuals to make half of their grain choices from whole grain foods.

What is a whole grain serving?

The serving terminology can be a bit confusing when it comes to whole grains. Typically a grain serving is referred to as 1 oz for breads, crackers, pitas, tortillas and dry cereals. For cooked grains it is ~ ½ cup. When referring to a whole grain serving however a serving is defined as providing 16 grams of whole grain. A 1 oz or ½ c portion of whole grains could technically provide > 16 grams of whole grains per serving.

An athlete’s best bet to identifying whole grain foods is to read the food labels and the ingredient lists carefully. Look for the words WHOLE GRAIN in large print on the front of the package. Look at the ingredient list for the terms whole grain flour as the first ingredient. Look for whole grain health claims on packages.

Athletes can also keep an eye out for the “Whole Grain Stamp.” This symbol will help identify which foods offer 8 to 16 grams of whole grains per serving. For more information on the Whole Grain Stamp and foods that are approved to carry the label check out www.wholegrainscouncil.org

onsider going against the “common” grains Wheat, oats and rice are the main grains found in most grocery stores. Athletes can certainly meet their carbohydrate needs and whole grains recommendations with these grains however some of the lesser known grains that are worthy of consideration are :

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), Buckwheat,
Millet, Corn- yes, popcorn is a whole grain!, Barley, Other wheat containing grains such as Kamut, Spelt, Bulger.

Tips for adding whole grain goodness to your daily training diet:

• Start the day with a whole grain breakfast. Cooked oatmeal is a AM staple but consider dry cereals made from some of the less common but nutrient rich grains/ grain blends such as Kamut or Kashi brand cereals. • Buy breads, pitas, tortillas and crackers that list 100% whole grain as one of the first couple of ingredients. • Add extra cooked grains to soups, stews or casseroles. • Substitute ¼ to ½ the flour in a bake good recipe with whole grain flour. • Try pastas made with quinoa, millet, spelt or buckwheat. • Substitute some of the less common grains for rice. They can easily be cooked in a rice cooker and seasoned similar to rice. Cooked whole grains can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days and can be frozen and reheated for quick and easy high performance meals at a later date. • Satisfy your sweet tooth with a variation of one of my favorite snacks:
½-¾ c cooked unseasoned brown rice, couscous, or quinoa
¼ - ½ c lowfat milk or flavored soy milk
1-2 tsp dark brown sugar- can substitute Splenda Brown sugar
1-2 Tbsp raisins/ dried figs/dates/prunes- can substitute blueberries or dried cherries
Combine in a microwavable bowl. Heat for 1 minute. Mix then serve…yum!

For Ironman athletes, the whole grain food choices not only help with meeting the energy demands for training, but also carry essential nutrients which are needed for performance and recovery. The key to including more whole grains is to know what to look for and be open to trying and experimenting with different grains. Athletes who go with the whole grain will be rewarded with not only nutrient dense foods but will add a little pizzazz too through new tastes and textures.

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