“There is an overwhelming amount of scientific and real world evidence that demonstrates that a diet rich in carbohydrates is critical to success in endurance sports. Carbohydrates are stored in the body as liver and muscle glycogen. With it, an athlete’s ability to perform at high intensity is severely diminished, and when it is depleted the dreaded bonk is a distinct possibility.” -Allen Lim in The Feed Zone Cookbook
Even those who try to maintain a paleo diet find that they need to modify that diet at times to include carbohydrates with a high glycemic index. The Paleo Diet for Athletes describes those modifications.
The most crucial time to eat carbohydrates is immediately after a workout. The muscles are depleted and are highly sensitive to insulin, allowing them to quickly store glycogen. Failing to replenish your muscle glycogen stores will lead to much slower recovery, including muscle soreness and weakness that will last a few days.
Most sources say that for high intensity rides of up to two hours, one should consume two grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight within 30 minutes of completing the ride. For rides longer than four hours, increase that to four grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.
I currently weigh about 81 kilos (180 lbs). Ideally, I should weigh about 165 lbs, or 75 kilos. That’s the number I use when figuring out how much carbohydrate to eat after a long ride. It works out to 300 grams of carbohydrate (1,200 calories) after a four hour ride.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to consume 300 grams of carbohydrate in a short period of time?
Medium grain white rice has a little over 50 grams of carbohydrate per cup (uncooked). Imagine scarfing six cups of rice. Depending on the pasta, you get 40 to 45 grams per cup of cooked pasta. That’s about six and a half cups of cooked pasta (13 oz uncooked). Imagine throwing almost a pound of spaghetti into a pot, cooking it up, and then eating it all.
It’s really, really hard to eat 300 grams of carbohydrate quickly.
Rice and pasta are about as good as it gets when it comes to high carbohydrate foods. That’s why a lot of people turn to recovery drinks that contain maltodextrin. One example (I’m not endorsing this product, as I’ve never tried it) is Mike’s Milk, which packs 73 grams of carbohydrate into a 100 gram serving. With their suggested mixing ratio of 100 grams per 1/2 cup of milk, I’d only need to drink two cups (16 oz) of milk to get the carbs I need.
There are many different recovery drinks, but you have to be careful what you get. Those that contain primarily fructose and other sugars are inexpensive, but not all that good for you. You want something that has more complex carbohydrates. You can purchase maltodextrin in bulk and mix your own drink. Search for “homemade sports drink maltodextrin,” and you’ll find some good (and lots of bad) suggestions. The most difficult part is actually obtaining the maltodextrin, which is somewhat difficult to find in stores (the local Whole Foods store didn’t carry it), but easily available online.