Who Needs All That Carb?


I ran 15.5 miles yesterday. It was an unusually hot and humid evening and I ran the first part of my run against a hard wind (somehow I timed the run so by the time I turned back to head home the wind had stopped).

But the real problem I had during the run had more to do with nutrition than with the weather.

Since I began the Paleo Diet I consume very small amounts of carbohydrates. Even after adding quinoa and the occasional sweet potato to my diet, I still seem to consume far less carb than is recommended by most nutritionists. I try to increase my intake on running days especially if it’s a long run but this is not always possible.

My dietitian told me there is no way I will be able to train and run a marathon on 1-2 cups of quinoa a day and that I needed to get more complex carbohydrates into my body. (It’s important to differentiate between complex carbs found in grains and legumes and simple carbs found in fruit, since the latter is processed by the body as fat and does not get stored in the muscles as glycogen.) So I’ve decided to eat more and I am currently eating 2-3 cups of cooked quinoa a day (some days less) which is around 80g–120g of carb.

According to the carbohydrate calculators, I should be consuming between 350g-450g of carbs a day- and that’s if you consider my activity level as moderately active. This is obviously not doable while following the Paleo diet, even with the small concessions I have made to be able to train for a marathon.  But I do accept that I need to try and consume between 150g-200g of carb a day.

The problem, which I can’t seem to get away from, is that in order to consume more complex carbohydrates I need to use more insulin. And when I start taking more insulin I have lows during my runs.

Last Friday I went out for a 13 mile run 4 hours after eating and taking insulin. My BS was fine when I left the house, but 2.5 miles into the run I was 60.  I ate a dried date and two halva snacks (15g carb each and continued to run eating another couple of halva snacks during the run (yes , I’m back to picnic running).  When I got home I was 67.

I find that I can get away with very little insulin when eating quinoa but other “high carb” foods, like sweet potatoes (24g for medium sweet potato), require more.  And if I eat larger amounts of quinoa,  I will also need to take much more insulin. I also am not sure I am physically and mentally capable of consuming 5 cups of quinoa a day (which would bring me only to 200g of carb a day). The truth is that once you cut processed food and grains out of your diet (no pasta, bread, rice or corn) it is very hard to reach the recommended amounts of carbohydrate.

The real question though isn’t how can I consume 450g of carbs a day but why is the recommended amount for moderately active people who aren’t over weight so high. Do we really need so many carbohydrates?

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Catherine Price
12 years ago

Hi Elizabeth, First off let me say that I am not on the pump. I use Lantus and Apidra injections. therefore I can’t reduce my basal and since the running increases insulin effectiveness the result is a dropping BS rate. This of course is much worse if I take any short acting insulin during the hours before my run. I try and make sure I don’t take any 2 hours before but I find that the insulin has some effect (only while running) even 4 hours after taking it. That is why I prefer to run in the mornings when… Read more »

Elizabeth Snouffer
12 years ago

Quick thought… what is your particular carb to insulin ratio?  I suspect you need more than a dietician to help you figure out how to eat well for your long distance running + insulin uptake.  Also, if you are on a pump I am assuming you are temporarily changing your b-rates when you run? For instance my ratio is .7 units of insulin for every 15 grams carb I consume for moderate activity.  If I ran for 10 miles, I might need to cut that ratio by 2/3rds.  Of course this is all by trial and error but it’s what… Read more »

Fred Wuensche
Fred Wuensche
12 years ago

We really don’t need anywhere near the number of cabs your dietitian is advocating. Most of them get their bad advice from the ADA, which stubbornly refuses to admit their error in espousing a high-carb diet for diabetics. There is evolving distrust of the ADA among diabetics, and a significant number of surveys bears this out. Question for your dietician: What are the identified essential nutrients in carbs? (the correct answer is none). I am not a runner like you. I am, however at least moderately active, and do very well on about 30 gm of carb a day. Have followed… Read more »

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