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  • Writer's pictureChanise | Sports Dietitian

How to Fuel your Training with Carbohydrates

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

This is for all our competitive athletes out there..

As an athlete, fuelling your training properly allows you to manage factors associated with fatigue and decline experienced in performance levels. Carbohydrates is an important macronutrient to consider when you are an athlete wanting to keep your energy and performance levels high. Timing, types and amounts of carbohydrates can be controlled to avoid depletion of glycogen stores and consequent feelings of fatigue throughout training and competitions.


In this blog you will learn:

- How carbohydrates are metabolised and used in the body - Examples of types of carbohydrates - Physiological effects that carbohydrates have on the body

- Fuel for events less than 90 minutes

- Fuel for events longer than 90 minutes

- Carbohydrates for recovery and refuelling

healthy sandwich on plate

What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates is a 'non-essential' macronutrient. Carbohydrates are broken down (metabolised) in the digestive tract into smaller molecules called glucose. The glucose molecules are utilised in the body by providing energy to our working muscles and organs, in particular our brain, requires it every day for optimal function.

However, they are 'non-essential' due to our liver compensating for lack of carbohydrates through creating glucose from non-carbohydrates sources (gluconeogenesis)

Your liver has an EXTREMELY potent and important role in digestion. It filters through all our absorbed nutrients, utilising them and excreting consumed toxins. As mentioned before, it also has the ability to make glucose when there is none.

This is a critical function in times of chronic stress, usually when food scarcity is apparent. Using our other nutrients to create glucose by the liver, may alter other functions of the body overtime and deter muscle growth, maintenance and repair. Therefore, consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates will support your training journey and progress without the additional stress placed on the liver.


There are two classes of carbohydrates; simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates include all forms of sugars which are water-soluble thus, readily absorbed into the bloodstream.

The absorption of sugars from the intestine into the blood stream enhances the pancreas to release hormone insulin. Insulin helps to regulate and maintain blood glucose levels by removing excess sugar and storing it (as glycogen) for energy in the muscle, liver or fat tissue. Fat tissue, also referred to as adipose tissue, is the more favourable storage source for sugar as storage occurs at a much faster rate. Sugars can be found in some fruits and vegetables, milk, and of course table sugar.

Complex carbohydrates are chains of sugars which include starches and dietary fibre. These are complex as they require a longer digestion process to break down the carbohydrate molecules. Thus, providing you with energy for a longer period of time and leaving you feeling substantially satiated.


SIMPLE SUGARS:

  • Table sugar

  • Fructose - honey, fruits and vegetables

STARCHES (COMPLEX):

  • Bread

  • Cereal

  • Pasta

  • Potato Corn

DIETARY FIBRE (COMPLEX):

  • Oats

  • Beans

  • Whole Grains

  • Skins of fruits and vegetables


Why Carbohydrate Consumption is Important:

Athletes follow strategic carbohydrate practises in order to avoid:

  • Depletion of glycogen stores (glucose stored in the muscles) leading to muscle breakdown

  • Hypoglycaemia (low carbohydrates in the blood)

  • Central nervous system fatigue (neurotransmitter synapse/communication fatigue)

  • Dehydration (lack of water)

  • Hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood)

  • Gastrointestinal discomfort and upset

Many of these factors are controlled by ensuring their carbohydrate timing and intake is sufficient to their fuel their energy requirements.


Carbohydrate Timing Tips:

General Fuelling:

  • Athletes can fuel up with carbohydrates for optimal muscle glycogen storage, usually the day prior to an endurance based event less than 90 minutes.

  • 7-12g/kg BM/d per 24 hours

Carbohydrate Loading

  • Increases your carbohydrate levels above baseline to maximise muscle glycogen stores 48 hours prior to an endurance based event lasting more than 90 minutes.

  • 10-12g/kg/d for 36-48hours

Refuelling

  • Once the event concludes, refuelling is vital to promote muscle recovery, energy repletion.

  • Carbohydrates consumed after training stimulates the release of insulin, assisting to build muscle by transporting carbohydrates to depleted muscles.

  • Training synthesises and damages muscles at the same time therefore, pairing carbohydrates with protein will aid in the recovery of catabolised muscle while promoting muscle protein synthesis (building new muscle)

athlete shooting basketball with lots of energy from fuelling carbohydrates properly

Do you find it hard to plan your meals correctly around your training to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need to perform your best? Contact our Accredited Practising Dietitian here. Working with a dietitian can help relieve the added stress caused by always having to organise your nutrition every day to suit your needs.

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