Carb Intake for Today’s Athletes
People always think athletes have it easy. Maybe they’re job isn’t as boring as sitting in a cubicle all day, but the lifestyle is hardly easy. Consumed with post workout recovery, athletes that workout 2,3 or even 4 times a day basically have a lifestyle that revolves around training, practice, eating, and trying to get as much rest as possible. Oh, and you have to try and maintain all the other obligations in life along with all that eating.
Any serious athlete knows that if you miss a meal it can have serious consequences. Workout nutrition is big business, and rightfully so. One way that we can get the best recovery possible is through the use of carbohydrates. Regardless of the athlete – runner, sprinter, soccer or tennis player – carbs are a major player to recovery and improving performance.
In an interesting study, researchers had subjects train to exhaustion and then eat a carbohydrate rich diet the following days after. Those who consumed a high amount of carbohydrates (10g/kg/bw) were able to duplicate their performance (1). Those who took in half the amount of carbs were not able to replicate the same feat.
Athletes that strength train or sprint regularly need carbohydrates as well. When resistance training with 2-4 sets, muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates in the muscle) by up to 40% (2). That reduction can affect the next training session as well as competition. The same can be said if you compete in a sport with multiple sprints, like soccer or American football.
So what is an athlete to do? Ideally, a post workout meal should consist of .45 to .55 g/lb (3). In some cases, you may have to eat that much carbohydrate every hour for 4 hours after a training session depending on how hard the session was as well when the next workout is. At the end of the day, some athletes will need to consume between 5 to 10 g/kw/bw. Foods should be a mix of complex carbohydrates and vegetables; high carbohydrate foods include potatoes, rice, oats, and buckwheat.
Sometimes roadblocks occur because athletes want to stay lean, and the heavy carb intake won’t help. Often times what I do with my athletes is a simple carbohydrate cycle: non-training days require less carbohydrates than heavy training days. It may help to reduce calories on non-training days but you have to be extremely careful as to not affect performance.
1. Williams, Clyde. Lamb, David. “Do High Carbohydrate Diets Improve Exercise Performance”(2008) Sports Science Exchange 21;1.
2. Rankin, Janet Walberg. “Dietary Carbohydrate and Performance of Brief, Intense Exercise” (2000) Sports Science Exchange 13;4
3. “Dietary Carbohydrates for Athletes” (2004) Sports Science Exchange 17;2