Carbohydrates and Exercise: Why You Need Carbs if You’re Active
Balanced nutrition is important for exercise, but carbohydrates are especially key for maintaining peak performance during physical activity. In fact, carbohydrates are the most important source of fuel in an athlete’s diet.
Anyone who’s active and moves their body is an athlete; therefore, no athlete should avoid carbs.
How Do Carbs Help with Exercise and Performance?
There’s a common misconception that all carbs are bad, without considering the fact that there are many healthy carbs to choose from. Here are the top five reasons why you shouldn’t fear or avoid carbs.
1. Carbohydrates fuel the brain and muscles.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for our brains and bodies to function properly; they provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. Think of it as fuel for your car: Our bodies store carbs in our muscles as glycogen, which is then converted to glucose when you need it.
Carbs help delay fatigue, sustaining you through prolonged workouts or competitive sports.
2. Carbohydrates prevent muscle breakdown.
By eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day, protein is free to do its main job: repair and rebuild muscle tissue. If we limit carbohydrates, protein will be needed as an energy source and not be utilized to build lean muscles.
Adequate carbohydrate intake can prevent muscle breakdown from glycogen depletion, especially if you’re working to maintain or build your muscles.
3. Carbohydrates should make up the majority of the diet.
In my work with professional athletes, I often recommend a high-carb diet for those who need a lot of endurance and stamina in order to sustain the daily demands of training and exercise. Of course, needs vary based on the individual and the type of exercise or sports they engage in.
Individuals engaging in a general fitness program can usually meet their needs by consuming a balanced diet of 45-55% of calories from carbohydrates. That is about 3-5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight, per day.
4. Carbohydrates before a workout will boost your performance.
If you have ever felt sluggish or low on energy during a workout, you probably didn’t fuel up with sufficient carbs. Fueling up before exercise helps maintain optimal levels of blood glucose for our muscles
To avoid poor performance, choose pre-workout snacks that are easy to digest, such as bananas, an English muffin with jam, or a granola bar. Foods high in fiber and fat can cause gastrointestinal distress and should be avoided close to exercise.
5. Carbohydrates accelerate recovery.
Consuming carbohydrates after exercise helps replenish the energy stores that were just utilized during strenuous exercise. Activity longer than one hour will require extra attention to carbohydrate refueling.
Muscles need protein and carbohydrates to properly recover and become stronger. A post-exercise recovery shake with a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is the perfect way to refuel. Try blending Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength with a banana and 10 ounces of milk to optimize your recovery
Maintaining an optimal diet has many benefits to athletes, including consistent performance and enhanced recovery. Carbohydrates rightfully receive a great deal of attention in sports nutrition.
Dana Ryan, Ph.D., M.A., MBA, Director, Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education
Dana Ryan completed her doctorate in physical activity, nutrition and wellness at Arizona State University. Before joining Herbalife Nutrition, she taught exercise physiology and related courses at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and has conducted research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), on the impact of community-based nutrition and physical activity programs on heart disease risk.