Spring Sports Series: Carbohydrates, The Master Fuel

Grains and pasta are full of carbohydratesCarbohydrates are a very important part of an athlete’s nutrition plan. Carbohydrates provide essential energy, so it’s important for athletes during exercise to replace the carbohydrate stored in the muscles. If athletes don’t get the needed amount of energy, lean tissue will be used to fuel the body.

Carbohydrates are in many types of food. Sources of healthy carbohydrates include fruits, whole grain bread products, milk and vegetables. Other carbohydrate choices include sports drinks, bars and gels.

To determine which foods high in carbohydrates should be eaten at particular times, food’s glycemic index can be used. Glycemic index is the rate that the sugar in the food reaches the bloodstream. Overall, foods with a lower glycemic index, like yogurt and bananas, reach the bloodstream slowly and provide sustained energy. Foods with a high glycemic index, like corn flakes and sports drinks, are great for recovery and reach the bloodstream quickly. The amount of carbohydrates needed for exercise depends on many different factors including type of exercise, duration and the individual. 3 to 4 hours before exercise, it’s recommended that approximately 1.5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight be consumed. If the amount of time before is less than 3 hours, reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed. For exercise lasting greater than an hour, consider consuming carbohydrates at the start of exercise. If carbohydrate loading didn’t occur before exercise, more carbohydrates may be needed (in general, 30 to 60 grams per hour). To recover from exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed immediately after exercise. Within 2 hours of exercise approximately 0.7 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight should be consumed. Recovery foods should contain carbohydrates and protein. Carbo-loading is most effective for endurance athletes engaging in exercise lasting 90 minutes or more. When tapering exercise before a distance event, it’s important to consume the same amount of carbohydrates to increase glycogen stores. If one has carbo-loaded properly, athletes should gain 2 to 4 points from the fluid retention associated with rapid increase in carbohydrates. Some high carb foods:
  • Bagel (whole): 57 grams
  • Fruit yogurt (1 cup): 50 grams
  • Cooked rice (1 cup): 45 grams
  • Raisins (1/3 cup): 40 grams
  • Apple juice (8 oz.): 30 grams
  • Instant oatmeal: 30 grams
  • Banana (whole): 25 grams
  • Chocolate milk (8 oz.): 25 grams
Special thanks to Dr. Joseph Chorley for contributing to this article.
Roberta Anding