One of the biggest dietary challenges is knowing how to select your carbohydrate intake based on your lifestyle and training requirements. This article gives tips on how to fuel your training based on the demands of that session, and offers smart swaps when you’re craving something naughty!
- Carbohydrate Recommendations for Athletes
- How to Avoid Sugar Cravings
- Carbohydrates for Athletes: Take Home Points
- Are carbs bad for athletes?
- Do athletes eat a lot of carbs?
- Why do athletes need more carbs?
- Why low carb diets are bad for athletes?
- How many carbs can you digest in an hour?
- What are the best carbs for athletes?
- Which carbohydrates should be avoided?
- Is Rice a good carbohydrate?
- Can you run on a low carb diet?
- What is the role of carbohydrates in post exercise recovery?
Carbohydrate Recommendations for Athletes
Use Carbohydrates to Maximise Training Performance
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for high-intensity exercise performance. For weight management, your nutrition should be periodised to maximise both carbohydrate availability for performance, but also taking into account your body’s energy requirements when at rest. With this in mind, ensure that you support your training with sufficient carbohydrates before, during (depending on duration & intensity) and after. Endurance exercise conducted in the fasted state also promotes fat metabolism, so occasionally training with reduced carbohydrate availability is also recommended.
Exercise intensity is associated with a simultaneous increase in the dependence of carbohydrates for energy, so naturally, when you’re resting or performing low intensity exercise e.g. walking, the body wants to use its fat stores as fuel. So when performance is not critical periods of rest and reduced intensity should be fuelled by foods with reduced carbohydrate and higher fat (primarily unsaturated fats) along with sufficient protein.
Carbohydrates for Athletes Should be Chosen Wisely
Low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates have long been thought to be better than high-GI carbs, especially for fat loss diets. A food’s GI is determined by the effect it has on the body’s blood sugar levels; the higher the GI reflects a higher the blood sugar response. Although research suggests there to be no difference between calorie-controlled diets that solely contain low- or high-GI carbohydrates, it would still be recommended to prioritise low-GI carbohydrates for good health to keep blood sugar levels under control and also to improve satiety to prevent overeating.
Opting for fibrous, nutrient rich vegetables to accompany a high quality protein source helps to reduce feelings of hunger during meals, and only adding additional carbohydrates (potatoes or whole-grains) dependent on training requirements.
How to Avoid Sugar Cravings
When you’re craving something sweet then here are some sensible options to satisfy your sweet tooth:
Swap Chocolate with 85% Dark Chocolate
A natural source of cocoa that contains important nutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc, and it’s also a source of antioxidants. Just a couple of squares is also sufficient as it can be quite bitter, so you’re less likely to demolish a whole bar which is always possible when it’s Dairy Milk!
Learn About Milk Chocolate Nutrition Vs Cacao Nutrition.
Use Nuts & Berries Instead of Sweets & Confectionary
Heavily processed sugary treats of no nutritional value should be swapped for sweet tasting, antioxidant-rich, low calorie berries. Together with mixed nuts and Greek yoghurt makes the perfect snack.
Milk and Eggs are Good Replacement for Crisps, Chips & Savoury
Indulging in foods like crisps, chips and pretzels are high in salt, but swapping these for a pint of milk is a great alternative that contains protein and is a natural source of sodium and other electrolytes.
Swap Eggs with Cereal
Cereals can be very high in sugar which can actually negatively influence what you eat the rest of the day. Research shows that having high protein foods for breakfast improves food choices, suppresses appetite and curbs sugar cravings later in the day compared to a typical carbohydrate based breakfast. Replace your bowl of empty calories with some nutritious, heart-healthy eggs to help you feel fuller for longer and control your late-night sweet tooth cravings.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep deprivation is a common cause of overeating by disrupting hormone levels that regulate appetite. You are much more likely to eat more, especially poor choice foods if you regularly go with 6 or less hours of sleep per night. Sleep is essential for your body to recover and function properly, so make sure that you’re getting 8 hours each night.
Carbohydrates for Athletes: Take Home Points
- Periodise your carbohydrates to support your training and reduce intake at times of rest and reduced activity to promote fat utilisation.
- Focus on low-GI carbohydrates in the form of fibrous vegetables, fruit, whole-grains, legumes & dairy.
- Try to go for a sensible alternative when craving something sweet e.g. dark chocolate, nuts, berry fruits & dairy.
- Increase protein at breakfast instead of sugary cereals to prevent sweet tooth cravings later in the day.
- Go to bed earlier and get at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
Are carbs bad for athletes?
No, carbohydrates are the primary energy source for moderate to high-intensity training, so they are extremely valuable for athletes to maximise their energy levels for performance.
Do athletes eat a lot of carbs?
It will depend on the sport, the level they compete at (training volume), dietary preferences and training goals, but generally yes, an athlete will eat a high carbohydrate diet.
Why do athletes need more carbs?
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for exercise, so to fuel the high volume of training that athletes do, carbohydrates are needed to support it and maximise their performances.
Why low carb diets are bad for athletes?
Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for training. Fats are also an important energy source. However, they are only effective at low-moderate intensity and are switched off at maximal intensities. Low carbohydrate diets can therefore impair training performance in athletes.
How many carbs can you digest in an hour?
During exercise, the body can utilise carbohydrates at a rate of 1-1.2g/min, so typically 60g per hour. Highly trained athletes can tolerate larger intakes up to 90g per hour, which is shown to further improve endurance performance.
What are the best carbs for athletes?
Fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and starches are the most nutrient dense carbohydrate sources for athletes and will make up the majority of their diet. Simple carbohydrates used in carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks, gels and energy bars are effective for athletes to consume the energy they need during training without causing any gastrointestinal discomfort.
Which carbohydrates should be avoided?
Excessive intakes of processed, sugary carbohydrates such as sugary drinks, sweets and foods with added sugars are not advised for athletes.
Is Rice a good carbohydrate?
Yes, rice is a high quality carbohydrate and is a staple in Asian cooking. Brown, basmati and wild rice are excellent choices with a lower glycaemic index and higher nutrient and fibre content. It is also gluten free.
Can you run on a low carb diet?
Yes, you can. However, after long periods on a low carbohydrate diet may cause severe fatigue in non-ketogenic adapted athletes, drops in energy levels and impaired performances may be experienced.
What is the role of carbohydrates in post exercise recovery?
Consuming carbohydrates after exercise help to replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores to support subsequent training sessions.