Carbohydrates: Fuel for Life

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Hey guys! I have a super informative post for you today about one of my favorite macronutrients: Carbohydrates. I was inspired to write this post and probably a series of posts (one debunking the myths of carbs) because I have seen a lot of social media about how carbs are bad for you and how they make you fat. While these myths aren’t true, I’m here to inform you why carbohydrates are important especially for athletes!

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The main reason why athletes need carbohydrates is due to the fact that carbs are the major fuel source for the body. Think of your body as a car. Without filling up your tank with the right gas, you won’t be able to run for a long period of time. The same thing goes with carbohydrates. When participating in exercise, your body breaks down glycogen stores to use for energy. When your body doesn’t have adequate amounts, you become fatigued, have a reduction in ability to train hard, impair your performance ability, and can negatively impact your immune function. Also having maximum stores of carbohydrates prevents your body from breaking down protein to make glucose for energy. If you rely on protein for energy, it can severely impact your ability to build and maintain muscle tissue. Not only does the body need carbohydrates for energy, but so does the brain. Consuming the right amount of carbohydrates can help not only athletes, but others, on and off the field.

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There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates are longer chain molecules that are strung together in complex chains. A lot of the complex carbs are seen in the picture above, but common options include whole wheat grains such as rice, pasta, bread, vegetables, starchy vegetables like potatoes and corn, and legumes. It is important to get a large amount of these complex carbohydrates in the diet, but make sure to focus on vegetables and whole grains. The ideal time to eat complex carbohydrates is 3-4 hours pre-workout and in your recovery meal.

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Simple carbs are what gets a bad rap because this is the category where all the processed treats like snack cakes, candy, and chips fall into. However not only are some important food groups simple carbs, but there is a time and place for some of these items as well. Fruit and milk are considered a simple carbohydrate, but you should not be limiting yourself to only one serving a day. As adults, we need at least 2-3 servings of fruit and 2-3 servings of dairy per day. Nutrient timing is important when it comes to simple carbs. If you want candy or something sweet, the ideal time to have it is immediately after working out to boost your carbohydrate stores quickly and during a long competition when your fuel is running low such as running a marathon or in a game longer than 90 minutes. Focus on eating simple carbs 1-2 hours before working out or competition and within 30 minutes post.

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Nutrient timing is one of the most important things to take into consideration when planning out your carbohydrate consumption throughout the day. Once you or your dietitian figures out how many g of carbohydrates you need per day, it is important to divide them through 3 meals and 3 snacks during the day. Also it is necessary to think about training and competition because you will need to fuel your body for these activities. The above guide is a general idea about how you should spread carbohydrates throughout your exercise. For more detailed plans, meet with a dietitian in order to come up with the best solution to match your needs!

I hope ya’ll enjoyed this general post about the importance of carbohydrates! I look forward to breaking down the top myths about carbohydrates in the future. Have a great Superbowl Sunday and go Panthers!

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