Why Carbohydrates Are Important For Athletes

The main role of carbohydrates in physical activity is to provide energy. Unfortunately, there are many recreational and competitive athletes who either are not aware of why carbohydrates are important for athletes and in their diet or that it’s a must for ultimate performance. Or some training buddy told them to restrict carbohydrates from their diet that he or she read on the internet.

Carbohydrates are one of the most important nutrients in an athlete’s diet. Carbohydrate needs protein and fat to function in the body.

  • Carbohydrates are the principal sources of energy in most human diets
  • carbohydrates are the most important fuel for exercise
  • carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles and release into the blood also feed the brain
  • carbohydrates maintain blood glucose levels.

Carbohydrates play several crucial roles in the Athletes performance. Carbohydrates and athletes performance are referred to metabolic processes of living organisms. Let me explain, Carbohydrates are sources of glucose and electrolytes, meaning that they give your body energy for that working muscles during exercise.
Carbohydrates are stored as “Glycogen” in your liver to help maintain blood sugar levels and in your muscles to help provide energy during physical exercises. This process also feeds your brain and helps with concentration during exercises. When glycogen levels are low in the body the muscles have to rely on fat that is inefficient fuel source and is extremely dangerous and leading to a Phenomenon described as “hitting the Wall”.

There is a difference storage level of Carbohydrates (Glycogen) between male and female athletes.

  • The carbohydrate stored in the liver (Glycogen): Males 90g and Females 70g
  • The carbohydrate stored in the muscle (Glycogen): Males 400g and Females 300g

How To prevent The Phenomenon Of Hitting The Wall?

If your glucose levels drop due to depleting glycogen stores or inadequate consumption of carbohydrates we said the athlete “hit the wall” Now, a trained athlete has twice as much stored glycogen as a sedentary person. I attached a table for guidance on the amount of carbohydrate intake for each type an athlete.

The rate at which your glucose levels drop depends on the type of carbohydrate you eat before, during and after exercise. It is important that your calories intake you eat are according to your calories intake. This also will control your weight or weight loss during your exercise up to completion level as well to maintain your energy levels.

The intake of protein is also important and break down to make glucose to maintain a constant blood glucose level in the body, muscles, and brain.

When Is Carbohydrate Important?

Your carbohydrate requirements before, during and after training or competition depends on following:

  • type, intensity, duration of exercise
  • the frequency of exercise or time available for recovery between sessions
  • body composition goals
  • environmental conditions
  • training background
  • performance goals for the session

The replacement of carbohydrate during prolonged exercise can benefit your sport’s performance, both through effects on :

  • the muscle (reducing/delaying the decline in exercise intensity with time)
  • the brain/central nervous system (reducing/delaying the decline in concentration and mental skills, as well as reducing/delaying the decline in pacing strategies with time).

Using specific training sessions to practice consuming specific carbohydrate foods is also important if it is intended to be consumed during a competition.

As I mentioned before, Carbohydrate (energy) intake after exercise is essential for optimum recovery of glycogen stores in the body and muscles. Often athletic performance is dependent upon the ability to recover from one session and do it all again in the next session. You’re resting time is also inadequate and if your fluid intake is incomplete the glycogen in the muscles slow down between training sessions can lead to a reduced ability to train well and a general feeling of fatigue. In competition, your performances and efforts are repeated within or across days (such as in a tournament, a swim or athletics meet, or a rowing regatta). You have to prepare your body with good Sports Nutritional Foods.

Look At The Following To Constant Blood Glucose Level

  • Eating high carbohydrate foods regularly throughout each day
  • Eating carbohydrates-rich foods and beverage during exercise for quick energy, thus “sparing” your glycogen in your muscles
  • Eating a high carbohydrate, moderate protein in meals and/or snack to help the glycogen restores and repair your muscles
  • Prescribed supplements with high carbohydrate, protein or supplements drinks to prevent dehydration in your muscles

What Happens With Inadequate Of Carbohydrates And Glycogen Stores?

Inadequate glycogen stores can lead to:

  • Heavy tired muscles
  • Poor performance
  • General fatigue
  • Negative effect on training or performance

How much carbohydrate?

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what to eat before exercise. For the majority of exercises, the important thing is Good Sports Nutrition.

To support training and recovery the following daily carbohydrate intakes are recommended:

  • General training: 5-7g/kg body mass
  • Endurance training: 7-10g/kg body mass
  • Competition: 7.0 – 10.0 g/kg/day
  • High-intensity: 5.0 – 8.0 g/kg/day

If exercise lasts longer than an hour, it is necessary to consume an additional 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates during the activity.

Can Children go On Low-Carb Diets?

Children need more carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients in their daily intake to increase their energy levels to exercise and high-level performance. Children also require more energy during a growth spurt. For children and teens that are involved in high-intensity athletic activities, eating the right amount of carbohydrates before, during and after an event is very important. Refuel for children and teens need closely supervising to prevent injuries or later diet related diseases.

Often teenage boys are fooled to go on low-carb and high-protein diets to gain extra muscle mass.

This is not TRUE

A diet low in carbohydrates will not only decrease muscle potential, blood circulation, concentration but will also worsen overall Athletes performance

Vegetables are not Carbohydrates

In today time of high-protein diets, it seems as if there is a big misunderstanding regarding vegetables. We often hear from athletes that they eat vegetables as their carbohydrate. Let we take a closer look. The body is not getting the necessary carbohydrates from vegetables alone.

For example, one cup of broccoli has only 5.8g of carbohydrate. The bottom line is that vegetables are not carbohydrates. Sure, they may add a few grams of carbohydrates to a meal, but they are not a carbohydrate source. For example, a slice of whole grain bread has a few grams of protein but it’s not a protein source.

Foods sources of carbohydrates include:

  • Grains: Whole grains are best, like corn tortillas, whole wheat pasta and whole wheat bread, quinoa, brown rice, beans, whole oats, or 100% whole grain cereal
  • Fruits: Fresh, frozen or canned in its own juices
  • Milk and Yogurt: Low fat, or organic when available
  • Vegetables have a small amount of carbohydrates
  • Many everyday foods and fluids contain carbohydrate but have different features
  • From a sport’s nutrition point of view, it is more helpful to classify carbohydrates as nutrient-dense, nutrient-poor or high-fat.


You as athletes are looking for maximal and optimal mental acuity, performance, recovery, body composition change that leads to a lifetime result. You should avoid jumping on the bandwagon of the latest food fad and other diets. When it comes to nutrition, there are three key points when it comes to daily nutrition:

  1. The proper eating frequency.
  2. The proper nutrient timing. When it comes to eating frequency and nutrient timing keep it simple. Fuel up immediately upon awakening and then every 2.5-3.5 hours’ thereafter. Being accurate with eating frequency and nutrient timing helps assist the body in stabilizing blood sugar, insulin and serotonin levels. This will result in high and stable energy levels all throughout the day as well as reduced if not completely eliminated food cravings.
  3. The proper macro nutrient balance. At every meal/snack, seek the proper balance of carbohydrate-protein-fat. Maintaining a macro nutrient balance at every meal/snack that contains 45-65% calories from carbohydrate, 15-30% calories from protein and 15-30% calories from fat will help to stabilize blood sugar, insulin, and serotonin levels. This will help to properly load and reload muscle glycogen stores.

Proper fuelling is important for endurance athletes to be able to put in the hard hours’ day in and day out. Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates, avoid the 70/30, 60/40 Diet-X mentality and fuel the body and brain the right way. These simple steps will help any athlete move to the next level.