Should you eat carbs during racing?

I listened to an interview with ultrarunner and iron woman, Kate Driskell, on the podcast Marathon Talk. In the interview, she said that she used to fuel her endurance races with bars, gels and Gatorade. She felt sick and gained weight while training for Ironmans. This resonated with me since I expressed the same fear of gaining weight when I recently spoke to a sports dietitian who recommended that I increase my carbohydrate and sugar intake for cycling.

Since I biked the 100 km sportive last week I thought I would explore all the fuel I ate during and directly after the event. Just a disclaimer, I ate based on the advice I received from this same sports dietitian who is very pro carbs. She recommended eating as little fat as possible before the race and then drinking an electrolyte drinks and bars, gels, baked goods and bananas during the race.

Based on this advice, the following is my food diary and cycling activity from last Saturday:

I ate a small cup of oats and sausage for breakfast. At 9:30 I had a toasted sandwich and banana. When I returned home at 19:30 my husband had a bowl of Bolognese ready for me. 🙂

This is not even everything I ate while on the bike!

Between my 9:30 brunch and 19:30 dinner I am embarrassed to admit that I ate:

  • 2 current buns, 2 Dutch wafer cookies and half a banana
  • 750 ml Isostar sports drink, 750 ml SIS sports drink and a glass of Coca-cola
  • 3 different types of bars (Oats, grains and a PowerBar) as well as ¼ of a caffeine gel
  • A cup of chocolate milk

The snacks accounted for a whopping 1909 calories. You could argue that since I spend 2048 calories cycling, consuming the additional calories is probably necessary and that my diary is pretty much what you would expect from someone who cycled for 5 hours.

If you look deeper though, my racing fuel and recovery menu accounted for 176 grams of sugar. The World Health Organisation recommends not eating more than 25 grams of sugar per day (or depending on your caloric intake, not more than 5% of your daily calories).

Since I consumed 3213 calories for the entire day and ate 184 grams of sugar (or 712 calories) a shocking 22% of my calories came from sugar. That is more than 5 times the amount the WHO recommends!

How can I justify filling up on with Coke and caffeine gels in the name of doing a sport to stay active and healthy? I don’t know the answer yet, but I going to make a point of figuring this out.


To get back to Kate Driskell, she decided to go low carb during training and races and said that she completed an Ironman on nothing but water. Is this the way to go? Would this work? Or more importantly, would this work for me?

Let’s hope I can answer these questions soon. In the meantime, if you want to listen to the interview with Kate Driskell, head to marathon talk and listen to EPISODE 385.

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