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The Best Carbs For Recovery, From An Exercise Ph.D. & Ultra Runner

Hannah Frye
Author:
June 08, 2024
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

Image by Dominique Felicity / Stocksy
June 08, 2024
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Demonizing carbohydrates is an outdated health fad begging for a rebrand. Instead of shunning all carbs, the focus should shift to choosing holistic options that support optimal energy and recovery.

To champion a pro-carb approach with nuance, consider this expert-approved list of favorites from exercise physiologist, physical trainer, and ultra runner Alyssa Olenick, Ph.D., as shared in a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.

An exercise physiologist’s go-to carb-rich foods

Many people have tunnel vision when it comes to carbohydrates, imagining only pizzas, crackers, muffins, and pastries. With that idea of carbs, it's no wonder so many people struggle to see carbs as essential parts of a healthy diet.

"I think a lot of people blame carbs for what high-caloric, hyper-palatable carb-fat combos did," Olenick says, referring to those highly processed options. Instead, Olenick suggests sticking to what she calls "strict carbs," which are healthier options rich in other nutrients. These include things like:

"That doesn't mean that you can't pair those with fats or proteins—you should," Olenick says. Pairing your carbohydrates with other macronutrients can boost satiety, making you feel fuller for longer.

Plus, it gives you a chance to get the most nutrients out of your snack.

For example, rather than eating a plain piece of bread, opt for something with added fat like avocado or some protein like scrambled eggs.

Olenick also mentions peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as an underrated recovery food, thanks to the duo of carbohydrates from the bread and jelly or jam and protein from the peanut or almond butter

A tip for runners

Olenick suggests minimizing high-fat foods, even healthy options like avocado, before a long run or intense cardio-based exercise. Oftentimes, fats can be difficult to digest and may slow you down. Instead, stick with a plain carbohydrate food or a light carb-protein duo.

So if you’re used to viewing carbs as something to limit, consider reworking your thought process to view those "strict carbs" as essential fuel for your body.

With the right carbs on your plate, you can optimize your workouts, maximize muscle gains, and feel better overall, thanks to their energy-boosting effects. 

The takeaway

Toxic diet culture has told many people that carbs are something to limit, but the truth is that carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet, especially for people who are physically active.

Keeping foods like bread, oats, quinoa, rice, fruit, and yes, even potatoes on your plate will help boost your energy and recovery. For more exercise and nutrition tips, tune into the full episode on Apple Podcasts

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