The Role of Carbohydrates for Athletes

The Role of Carbohydrates for Athletes

Ready to supercharge your workouts? Carbohydrates play a pivotal role in providing energy, managing gains and keeping you healthy. Carbs are a necessary part of any exercise schedule, regardless of intensity. Unravel the mystery behind these energy-packed wonders and see how they’re the fuel that powers you through strenuous workouts.

Why Are Carbs Important?

Carbohydrates are what fuel your body during workouts or through your daily life. If you love going to the gym, taking a jog or doing yoga, you’ll need carbs to sustain you. Your body will turn them into glucose — its preferred source of energy. You’ll feel the difference and your body will thank you.

You have to match your carbohydrate consumption to your activity level to perform as you should. They’re crucial for physical activity, so you may want to steer clear of lowering your intake if proper performance is your priority. Eating less carbs when you use a lot of energy through exercise can physically and mentally drain you, setting you up for failure in your next training session. Athletes should try to fill 50%–70% of their diet with carbs, but most people can stick between 45% and sixty-five percent.

If you want to avoid processed carbs, aim to fill your plate with more complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables and fruits. They'll give you the nutrients you need while offering fuel for your workouts, keeping you energized and feeling good while you move. Thinking of it as filling up your tank before a drive.

Though society likes to criticize carb consumption for women, they need carbs just as much as anyone else. Not consuming carbs when you need to can extend your recovery time, affect your bone density and make you more likely to injure yourself, so it’s critical to find the right balance for your body.

Carbs For Athletes

Carbohydrates are even more vital for athletes due to their increased energy demands. During exercise, your muscles primarily rely on glycogen for fuel. Athletes who engage in intense physical activity must ensure they have an ample supply of glycogen to sustain performance and prevent an energy dip. Power up your athletic prowess!

Carbohydrate-rich foods like pasta, rice, whole grains, and bread can help replenish glycogen stores before and after workouts, enhancing endurance and recovery. Bread is part of a simple pre-workout meal that provides carbs, protein and essential micronutrients like folic acid. Dietitians recommend getting 0.36 times your body weight in pounds in protein and — believe it or not — your carb intake can help you reach that protein goal as well.

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When it comes to carbs, timing matters, so eat a carbohydrate-rich meal about 1–2 hours before your workout for an extra boost. Additionally, post-workout carbs are just as important. Having a carb-heavy meal after physical activity can help replenish your glycogen stores, aiding in muscle recovery and reducing sluggishness after exercise. Carbs should be your primary focus in addition to supplements when looking to get fit and strong.

The Benefits of Carbs

Carbs are crucial in enhancing training performance and speeding up recovery. They provide the primary energy source for muscles during exercise, especially in high-intensity activities. Some other benefits of carbs for training include:

  • Glycogen replenishment: They help replenish glycogen stores in muscles after intense training, aiding in quicker recovery.
  • Optimal brain function: Glucose from carbs is essential for proper brain function, helping maintain focus and coordination during workouts.
  • Protein sparing: Adequate carb intake prevents protein breakdown for energy, allowing proteins to be used for muscle repair and growth.
  • Delaying fatigue: Carbs help prevent premature fatigue by providing sustained energy, allowing longer and more effective training sessions.

Ensuring an adequate carb intake can optimize your training performance, prevent the effects of overtraining and help you progress toward your fitness goals. If you need a push during a particularly tough workout, you can use intra-sport BCAAs for an instant boost.

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The Most Effective Carbohydrate Sources

Want to step it up? If you’re aiming to train longer, speed up your recovery time and care for your overall health, consider ditching the simple carbs and focus on complex ones:

  • Whole grains: These slow-release carbs give you energy gradually, providing a sustained fuel source during long training sessions. Brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat pasta are great options. 
  • Fruits and veggies: Vegetables and fruits contain quick-digesting natural sugars in their unprocessed form, providing a necessary energy boost before you start training. Additionally, they contain plenty of antioxidants, minerals and vitamins, which will be beneficial in recovery and your overall health.
  • Protein bars: Bars with fast-acting carbs like dates and honey, and protein sources like grass-fed whey and egg whites are an excellent snack when you’re on the go. They also come in tasty flavors like chocolate brownie and peanut butter.
  • Legumes: Lentils, beans and other legumes are great sources of protein and fiber, which is excellent for vegans and vegetarians who need an alternate source of these vital nutrients. Your body needs protein to heal your muscles, while fiber keeps you full, so these are great options to include in your post-workout meal.
  • Sweet potatoes: Sweet potatoes are full of vitamins, minerals and complex carbs, so they’re a popular choice for long-lasting energy. They’re also naturally sweet, which may help you curb your cravings for processed sugar.
  • Pancakes: There’s no reason to miss out on tasty treats during your fitness journey. Convenient pancake and waffle mixes are an ideal way to get all your essential macronutrients on one delicious plate using oats, whey, and dark chocolate chips.
  • Oats: A big bowl of oats is many people’s go-to breakfast for good reason — they’re very easy to make, and are full of fiber and slow-releasing carbs. 
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You should be aware of what your body needs when you’re looking to optimize your training sessions. Consider trying plant protein or grass-fed whey along with complex carbs like oats or fruit to speed up your recovery times and stay nourished. Stay smart, stay ready.

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Fuel Your Physical Activity With Carbs

All bodies need carbohydrates to keep up their energy, but this nutrient is even more important if you do a lot of physical activity. The harder you go, the more fuel you need. Carbs are what will help you keep up with your training, ensuring you can reach your fitness goals. It’s crucial to find that balance so you have fuel for your workouts. Try talking with your doctor or finding expert advice to gauge what’s best for your body.

Author Bio
Jack Shaw is the senior health and fitness writer at Modded as well as a coach and sports enthusiast. For the past 5+ years he's studied and written extensively about how to stay fit and maintain mental and physical health.

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