4 Things Athletes Should Know About Carbohydrates

Wellness: Health & Fitness
4 Things Athletes Should Know About Carbohydrates

Primary Media


December 31 2018


Carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation in recent years, especially when it comes to athletes or general fitness enthusiasts. So before you consider switching to a keto or low-carb diet, here's what you should know about carbohydrates.

  1. Carbohydrates Are the Main Energy Source for Athletes.

    They provide a quick-and-sustained, usable form of energy during sports (especially power or sprint sports). 

  2. Carbohydrates Are a Source of Fiber

    Carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, fruit, or legumes are a healthy source of fiber—an important nutrient for an athlete's (and everyone's) heart and gut health.

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  3. Carbohydrates Are Protein-Sparing

    This means an individual can eat less protein and still reap the benefits of muscle recovery and lean muscle mass. When the intensity of the exercise or activity increases and there is also an increase in heart rate, carbohydrates (glucose) are the most readily available to use for the working muscles. Fat breakdown doesn’t occur fast enough to provide usable energy when exercise intensity is high. Protein also must go through a conversion to carbohydrates, but again, doesn’t occur fast enough with the type of exercise intensity athletes must match. Without the right amount of carbohydrates the athlete risks injury, decreased performance, and may reverse positive training adaptations.  

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  4. Carbohydrates Should Be the Majority of Daily Calories

    The recommendations for carbohydrate amount may vary across the type of sport or activity, but overall carbohydrates should be the majority of the individual’s calorie source. There may be appropriate times for reduced amounts of carbohydrate, such as if an athlete is injured or during the offseason if training volume is significantly reduced. But even so, athletes are training during the offseason, so complete carbohydrate avoidance is not recommended.

    To learn more about fueling your body for optimal workouts, contact your local Hy-Vee registered dietitian.