Nutrition Hour with Jackson: Carbohydrates and Endurance Athletes

Trying out a new idea for a series on the podcast this week! Between school and just my nerdy interests, I read and synthesize a lot of scientific papers. So, if I find a paper that I find particularly interesting or of value and relevance to the podcast audience, I will dissect it on the show. One of the goals of this podcast is to create a more scientifically literate community so that we may wade through the murky and confusing waters of nutrition science.

First up is a review published in the journal Science written by renowned sports scientist Louise Burke. The paper, titled Swifter, higher, stronger: What’s on the menu? is a deep dive into the latest research as it relates to fueling the endurance athlete. She and her co-author John Hawley discuss carbohydrates vs. fat as fuel, supplements, relative energy deficiency in sport, and more. So I talk about it. Let me know what you think!

-Jackson

Link to the paper discussed: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6416/781

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2 Replies to “Nutrition Hour with Jackson: Carbohydrates and Endurance Athletes”

  1. Thanks for this, Jackson. I also saw this study recently, but I didn’t react as positvely as you did to it.

    I’m bringing a perspective to this as someone outside nutrition science, as a concerned citizen. Sometimes relying entirely on science to explain complex systems like the human body, energy production, and energy consumption leads to myopic concentration on a very limited range of factors; these studies are conducted with biases and with agendas.

    Have humans been running long distances and fuelling for thousands of years without eating much? Yes. Have humans been fuelling this exertion by consuming up to 90g carbohydrate per hour? I don’t think so.

    We haven’t had access to refined grains, sugars, cereals, or juices that allow us to consume these amounts of carbs for too long. Try eating the recommended amount of carbs in a natural whole food–that’s going to be difficult and uncomfortable.

    Sometimes lived experience and going on feel is more instructive. This is also individualistic: everybody is different, and has differenct nutrional needs depeinding on their own specific contexts. Generalised reccommendations like 60 – 90g CHO per hour seem a bit ridiculous.

    1. Yes, this is the beauty of science as a tool: use common sense and personal experience to guide questions, and then use science to enhance the quality of decisions we make and test them. I definitely don’t feel that we need to consume 90g of CHO every time we do a long endurance event, but there’s good data to support that doing so may improve performance…completely depends on your goals. The problem with relying on the idea that “we’ve done X for thousands of years” is that science is always evolving and we didn’t have access to this information back then. We understand the macro and micro levels of our physiology and metabolism to a great degree in modern times, and the reality is that there are still so many humans and athletes who understand very little about how to fuel and eat as a human animal.

      We can’t only rely on our own experiences and anecdotes to make decisions about how we live, because that feeds into the problems we face already with misinformation and confusion in nutrition and beyond. Sure, there will be bias and agenda pushing in the field of science, but peer-reviewed research inoculates against this much, much better than the mainstream blogosphere.

      Begin with common sense and reason, and then look through an evidence-based lens to enhance those feelings. Thanks for the input, and for listening to the show!
      -Jackson

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