Carbohydrates In Sports

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Carbohydrates in Sports and Fitness

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Table of Contents



Sports, Fitness and Carbohydrates2

Classification of Carbohydrates4

Glycemic Index4

Carbohydrates before Exercise4

Carbohydrates during Exercise5

Carbohydrates after Exercise6


Carbohydrates in Sports and Fitness


Carbohydrates (CHOs) are the most important source of energy in a balanced daily diet. Carbohydrate intake must be balanced with adequate amounts of protein, fat, and water intake. In athletes, carbohydrates are the primary fuel source to maintain blood glucose for energy during exercise. Adequate carbohydrate intake also helps spare muscle from catabolic activity and muscles break down. After carbohydrate is ingested, they are broken down into smaller sugar galactose, glucose, and fructose that absorbed and used as fuel for the body (Maughan, Burke, Coyle, 2004). The body is capable of storing excess carbohydrates in the shape of glycogen in the muscle and livers. The body's glycogen capacity is approximately 300 to 400 grams (g) (Larson, 2007). Subsequent excesses are then converted to fat and stored. Conversely, in the setting of inadequate intake, an energy imbalance can result with adverse affects on athletic performance as well as overall health.


One gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories (cal; 16.75 joules [J]) of energy. General guidelines recommend that 6 to 10 g of CHOs per kilogram (kg) of body weight be consumed daily by both adult and adolescent athletes. However, additional recommendations suggest that an adult athlete's diet consist of 60% to 65% CHOs, whereas an adolescent athlete's diet should have 55% to 60% CHOs.

Our maximal carbohydrate storage is approximately 15 g/kg of body weight. So a 175-pound (79 kg) athlete could store up to 1,200 g of carbohydrate (4,800 cal or 20,096.64 J); enough energy to fuel high-intensity exercise for quite some time.

Sports, Fitness and Carbohydrates

Sports participation continues to be increasingly popular, with people of all ages and abilities training and competing in athletic events. Among the factors that contribute to success in sports are nutrition and hydration of the athlete; indeed, proper nutrition forms the basis of training and performance. Furthermore, an athlete's needs change throughout the life cycle, making it important to consider not only the short-term goal of optimal training and performance but also the mid- and long-term goals of optimal growth and development and a healthy adulthood. This entry discusses and offers recommendations for the nutrition and hydration of athletes (Kundrat, 2005).

There are a few basic differences between general and sports nutrition. Athletes have essentially the same nutrition needs as non athletes, but there are four ways in which the nutritional needs of athletes may differ from those of the general sedentary population. First, although the specific needs of the three macronutrients—carbohydrate, fat, and protein—appear to have the same percentages in the diet (approximately 60% carbohydrates, 25% fat, and 15% protein), the total amount of calories required by athletes may be slightly or much greater depending on the sport (Cordain, Friel, 2005). Furthermore, micronutrients (including vitamins and minerals) may also be required in greater amounts.

Carbohydrates should be consumed before, during, and after exercise. Prior to exercise, carbohydrates provide energy to maintain daily activities of living, as well as a ...
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