Happy Friday and welcome to another edition of #FYIFriday. Don’t forget to link-up your post!
Today I am finishing up my series on Nutrient Requirements for Active People. If you missed the previous articles in this series you’re going to want to check them out:
And I saved the best one for last…carbohydrates!
It’s no secret I love carbs. If you tried to put me on a low carb diet I would turn into a raging you-know-what. So I am SO happy that carbs are important for active people so that I have an excuse to eat them all. (not really, keep reading…)
Now lets break down the importance of carbs, who needs them and how much.
Why carbohydrates are important
When it comes to exercise people automatically think about protein. Protein is of course important, which is why I wrote a full article on it but carbohydrates also have a role to play.
During exercise, our muscles use carbohydrates as their fuel. Without enough carbohydrates we won’t be able to perform effectively. Our body can be thought of like a gas tank. If you don’t fuel up you’re going to run out of energy and quit.
Our bodies are able to store carbohydrates in a storage form called glycogen that can be be built up and used for later use.
How much carbohydrates do you need?
For a normal healthy individual it is recommended 45-65% of your daily intake come from carbs (3-5g/kg). For the average exercising individual working out 3-4 times per week for 30-60 minutes at a time, this level of carbohydrate is adequate. However, for those working out more frequently or longer it may not be.
Once you start exercising at a higher intensity or duration (such as marathon training) the first change that should occur to the diet is increase in carbohydrates to about 55-65% daily intake (approximately 5-8g/kg). This higher level of carbohydrates will ensure you have sufficient glycogen available for endurance activities.
Eating a higher carb diet to build up your glycogen stores is what is commonly referred to as “carb loading”.
So I have a license to eat doughnuts?
Well, not exactly. While you get to eat more carbohydrates when you’re exercising at high intensity it’s recommended these come from complex rather than simple carbohydrates. Disappointing, I know.
Although more calories & carbohydrates are needed with training it can be easy to out eat the calorie burn which leads to weight gain with marathon training.
One of the key factors with carbohydrates is the timing they are eaten particularly with endurance activities.
Before exercise it’s important that you eat a meal/snack with carbohydrates to fuel up the gas tank for optimal performance.
Some people exercise without eating prior to exercising but it’s not ideal. There is a belief that exercising in a fasted state helps with weight loss or body composition but the research does not support that.
For exercise that lasts less than an hour carbohydrates are not necessary however some research supports intake of sport drinks for increased performance.
For exercise over an hour in length, intake of carbohydrates helps improve performance by maintaining blood sugar levels and glycogen stores. It’s recommended to take 30-60g/hour. That would be about 2-4 cups of sports drink or 1-2 gels.
After exercise, you need to replenish the glycogen stores that you used up during exercise. Conventional advice has been to consume carbohydrates and protein within 30 minutes post exercise for optimal recovery. This will lead to the best recovery but if your next activity is not immediate, the importance of this time frame for recovery is lessened. Though eating a small snack or drink containing carbohydrates and protein post exercise is a good habit to get into.
Carbohydrates are important for exercising individuals and when exercise becomes more intense a higher carbohydrate intake is necessary to support activity. The best sources of carbohydrates are complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, sweet potato, corn, beans & lentils.
It’s important to not add excess carbohydrates to the diet unless your training regime really needs it and to not over indulge on things like pizza & beer as “carb-loading” as this can lead to weight gain during training.
Do you increase your carbohydrate intake during training? What’s your favourite way to carb load?