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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Are Carbs Good for Athletes?

Who hasn’t heard the myth, “Carbs are bad for you.”  You should avoid carbs”.  Really, is that myth true?  Briefly, NO – you shouldn’t avoid carbs.   There are “bad carbs” such as white sugar and white flour but there are many good carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Avoiding carbs can mean avoiding the many nutrients carbs provide that our bodies need and that athletes need.

Should athletes focus on carbs?  Absolutely.  For good athletic performance, an athlete needs carbs.  During exercise, carbs provide the greatest source of energy in the form of glucose.  Our bodies convert the carbs we eat to glucose.  Glucose is the sugar in our blood that feeds our cells and glycogen is how we store carb energy in our muscles and liver.  Eating carbs before a workout, before soccer, baseball or other sports game provides one with the energy needed for that event.

Weight lifters – should those who are strength training eat carbs or protein before they work out?  To have energy for the weight lifting, focus on carbs before you lift weights.  After weight lifting you can have carbs and protein.  Having some protein after you work out can promote muscle synthesis.  A glass of milk or a cup of yogurt is a great way to get high quality protein after a workout.    

Should an athlete avoid eating one hour before they exercise?  This is an old myth.  You can eat before you exercise and again focus on carbs before you exercise as carbs improves performance.  A low fat, light snack before exercising would be what to choose within an hour of the event.

Should you re-fuel during exercise?  Prolonged exercise, such as distance running, soccer, basketball, and cycling require one to refuel during prolonged exercise lasting a few hours.  During a cycling class, I have seen new members come in without breakfast, no water bottle and then attempt to cycle for an hour.  Not surprising many end up fatigued, weak and often dizzy.   Most have to quit well before the hour is up.  They would have done much better with a breakfast focused on carbs (banana, cereal, milk) and then coming to the cycling class with a water bottle for hydration. 

Do you need to refuel if you exercise for less than an hour?  If you are exercising moderately, you probably don’t need extra fuel.   But keeping hydrated is important.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends not only drinking plenty of fluids during exercise but also  before and after exercising.  For endurance athletes, they recommend beverages with low or moderate sugar content, and some electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.  For endurance athletes sports drinks are appropriate. 

Sources:  Eating for Champions, Hydrating for Fitness  Image Source:  carbs

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