Written by: Kristin Dugan, SPT

The goal of every athlete is to be the best competitor in their sport. Some may think you need fancy equipment, expensive clothing, or the latest and greatest trend to be the best you can be. Although these things can be very helpful when training for your sport, you must have basic nutrition taken care before any of these luxuries can be beneficial to you. So, for the next few weeks, we will be talking about the basic elements of nutrition and how they impact you as a competitive athlete.

Today, let’s talk about….CARBOHYDRATES!

You have probably heard a lot about carbohydrates, but you may not have gotten the full picture or all the facts yet. There are a lot of opinions, as well as misconceptions, about carbohydrates, so it can be confusing as to what to believe. Most consider carbs to be “bad”, “fattening”, and something to be avoided, however carbohydrates are essential to your diet and can be very influential to your performance. The question should not be whether or not you should have carbs, but rather which TYPES of carbs you should consume and at what times.

What is a carbohydrate?

                  Carbohydrates are one of the three fuel sources the body uses to function. Carbohydrates, or sugars, are densely packed with energy, and can be consumed by food or beverage.

Why are carbohydrates important for athletes?

  1. Carbohydrates are needed for all activities—whether you are weight lifting, running a marathon, or sprinting toward a vault, you need carbs to fuel the activity. You need other nutrients as well, but without carbs, you would not be able to move longer than a few seconds.
  1. Fat burns in a carbohydrate flame—as weird as it sounds, you must have carbohydrates in order to burn fat. Fat cannot be broken down by the body without using carbohydrates to fuel the process.
  1. Carbohydrates are at the heart of brain function—brain cells have double the energy demand of any other cell in your body, and they can only be fueled by carbohydrates. The part of the brain that needs the most glucose (carbohydrate) is the hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory.

Are all carbohydrates the same?

Carbohydrates are generally classified as simple or complex. Simple means the sugars are easy to break down by the body and enter the blood stream rapidly after you eat them. Complex means the body takes longer to break them down so the sugars enter the blood stream more gradually. Simple sugars should generally be avoided because the only give you a short burst of energy followed by an energy crash, leaving you feeling tired and distracted. Complex carbs are preferred because they give you energy more evenly after being eaten, so you do not “crash” afterward.Carb pic 1

Click the following link for examples of simple vs. complex carbs: http://www.floridahealth.gov/chdcollier/smartgrowth/Documents/HealthTips/complexvssimplecarbohydrates.pdf

How many carbohydrates do I need each day in order to maintain a competitive edge?

Your body’s carbohydrate stores are depleted by the time you wake up in the morning, so a healthy breakfast is essential to starting your day off right.  Follow the guidelines below to maximize your daily and physical activities.

Here are some general guidelines for carbohydrates:

  • For general nutrition needs, <1 hour of moderate intensity exercise: 5-7 g/kg (2-3 g/lb) daily (ex: 100 lb body weight requires 200-300 grams of carbohydrates in one day)
  • For 5-6 hours of moderate intensity exercise: 10-12 g/kg (4.5-5.5 g/lb) daily (ex: 100 lb body weight requires 450-550 grams of carbohydrates in one day)
  • Consume simple carbs combined with protein 20 minutes before and immediately after exercise
  • Consume complex carbs throughout the day, evenly spaced at 2-3 hour intervals

Now that you know more about carbohydrates, are they your friend or your foe? THE CHOICE IS YOURS!

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