• Haley Schlechter, RD, LDN

Carb Shaming & Athletes


After my third counseling session of the week with a varsity athlete convincing them of the importance of carbohydrates I found myself extremely frustrated. Hearing things like: “I think I am eating too many carbs,” “Won’t carbs make me gain weight?” had become a normal conversation. With the rise of ridiculously high fat diets and other carb shaming fad diets in the media, I really could not be too surprised. The problem with this thinking is, contrary to what women’s health magazines says, athletes especially need to be consuming carbohydrates in order to train and perform at a competitive level. Not to mention, carbohydrates are called a macro (Greek word meaning large) nutrient for a reason, your body requires them.

Here is some science why:

Carbohydrates are stored in your body as glycogen. Glycogen is your body’s number one energy source during exercise. Your body can go from at rest releasing around 150mg of glucose per min from the liver (the body’s blood glucose regulator) to releasing around 1000mg of glucose per minute during intense exercise! This is the nutrient that keeps you going. Glycogen is also the easiest for your body to mobilize over protein or fat. Having enough glycogen can be the difference between you finishing a workout strong or not finishing it at all!

One of the issues is that when your body is using its protein storage for energy you are risking the loss of muscle growth and maintenance. This is one of the many reasons why nutrient timing is vital for athletes trying to lose weight while maintaining strength, especially in season.

You might be thinking if I just eat more protein I will not lose muscle mass or strength. This is only half true. When your body is carbohydrate depleted your body has to work harder in order to mobilize protein or fat stores for energy which will result in slowing your performance down. This can affect the intensity you are able to perform, ultimately affecting your ability to gain muscle mass. This can also lead to hypoglycemia which will greatly hinder your performance and general health.

Solution:

Endurance Athletes:

An endurance athlete should be consuming between 5-12 g carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight every day. I know that is an annoyingly large range, but let’s be reasonable. If you are exercising once a day during off season for 1-1.5 hours consuming 5-7g/kg, your body weight will work just fine. Those who are in season, competing in high intensity endurance sports lasting 2 or more hours a day are going to need 7-10g/kg body weight carbohydrates daily. Finally, those having multiple training sessions lasting for about 2 hours each are going to need 10-12g/kg body weight of carbohydrates. For example: 145lb (66 kg) female swimmer working out for 1 session lasting 2 hours a day should be consuming around 530g carbohydrates per day.

Strength Athletes:

There is a lot less literature on recommendations for strength athletes, but overall there is a general recommendation of 4-7g/kg body weight of carbohydrates per day. This is a much easier range to work with than the recommendations for the endurance athlete.

All Athletes:

Make sure you supply your body with much needed carbohydrates 1-2 hours before a practice and following a practice, regardless of athlete type, to replace used stores during exercise. If you are an athlete training for 2 or more hours a day you should also consider consuming carbohydrates during practice in the form of a sports drink.

Carbohydrate timing post exercise:

Note: this is just the beginning of talks on carbohydrates, in weeks to follow I plan to discuss things like super compensation protocols and carb loading. Do they work, how they work, and what athletes they work best for?

References:

J.L. Ivy et al.,1998 “Muscle glycogen synthesis after exercise: Effect on time of carbohydrate ingestion, “ Journal of Applied Physiology 64:1480-1485. Graph.

Gary Slater & Stuart M. Phillips (2011) Nutrition guidelines for strength sports: Sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S67-S77, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.574722

Gary Slater & Stuart M. Phillips (2011) Nutrition guidelines for strength sports: Sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S67-S77, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.574722

#Nutrition #SportsNutrition #EliteAthlete #carbohydrate #growstrong #backtobasics

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