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Can a diabetic safelyeat carbs to prep fora marathon?

Asked by Duane, Mississippi

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I am a type 2 diabetic. My glucose levels are tightly controlled with diet and exercise (no medication). Otherwise I am in good condition. I would like to run a marathon, but I have questions about appropriate nutritional options. The typical high-carb diet of many runners probably isn't a good option for me. I haven't been able to find any useful info on the Internet. Can you provide any advice or links to helpful sites?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Duane. First of all, congratulations on your goal of running a marathon. This is a terrific way to stay motivated to exercise, and your type 2 diabetes should not get in the way. To help answer your question, I contacted internationally known sports nutritionist and author Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD. She explained that the more you train, the better your body will be able to utilize carbohydrates, so you do not need to fear carbohydrates, even with type 2 diabetes. She made a few suggestions for the most appropriate way to eat carbohydrates while still maintaining good blood sugar control. All of these tips will also work well for people without diabetes training for a marathon.

Most important, you should fuel your body evenly throughout the day by eating mainly high quality carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables along with lean protein with every meal and snack. Try oatmeal for breakfast with an egg or a few egg whites, a turkey sandwich for lunch with a side of carrots and hummus, fruit and yogurt or nuts for an afternoon snack, and whole wheat pasta with turkey meatballs and a nice salad with olive oil for dinner. On longer training days, you will need more carbohydrates during and after your run. On runs lasting longer than 90 minutes, you will need to consume carbohydrate calories at a rate of about 200-240 calories per hour (or about 50-60 grams carbs/hour, depending on your body size). Don't worry about consuming carbohydrates during exercise as they will be burned very quickly by the body. You can consume carbohydrates in the form of a sports drink, sports gel, dried fruit, or even gummy candy. It is important to experiment during your training to determine what fuel source of carbohydrates works best for you.

After exercise, it is important to refuel your body with carbohydrates and some protein. Good choices include chocolate milk, cereal with milk, or a turkey sandwich. You will most likely need more carbohydrates for the next 24 hours, as your body replaces depleted muscle glycogen stores. (Glycogen is how your body stores carbs, so they are available to fuel during exercise.) Carbohydrate loading before long runs is not necessary. It is better to fuel your body correctly during your runs.

For more information, check out Nancy's book "Nancy Clark's Food Guide for New Runners, 2nd Edition (2009)" .

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