Why Endurance Athletes Need So Many Carbohydrates: A Breakdown for Nutrition and Health Training Students

Carbohydrates, typically thought of as starches and sugars, are considered to be our bodies’ main source of energy. These carbohydrates can be found in a wide range of food items, from starchy vegetables to processed candy. 

Endurance athletes have to pay particular attention to their diet, selecting food options that support their training and lifestyle. Acting as fuel for the body, carbohydrates can significantly impact an athlete’s health and performance. Here’s a closer look at the role carbohydrates play in their diets for students interested in learning more about nutrition and health. 

Understanding Carbohydrates and Their Role in Athletes’ Diets 

Carbohydrates can be divided into two groups: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates often refer to starchy vegetables and grains (including potatoes, peas and corn), while simple carbohydrates are typically found in fruits and dairy products (including sugar-based foods like candy). Those wishing to build healthy diets should focus more on complex carbohydrates, avoiding the processed sugar found in other food options. 

Our bodies break down carbohydrates into sugar glucose, which then enters the bloodstream and becomes a source of energy. Although simple carbohydrates provide quick energy, they’re not as sustainable as their counterpart. For this reason, eating complex carbohydrates is recommended for building endurance before working out as well as for boosting energy after training. According to a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, elite athletes can benefit from the following:

  • Eating 200 to 300 g of carbohydrates 3 to 4 hours before an athletic activity 
  • Eating 30 to 60 g of carbohydrates per hour during exercise (0.7 g/kg of body weight)
  • Eating 1 to 1.5 g/kg of bodyweight in the first 30 minutes as well as in every 2 hours for 4 to 6 hours

High-carbohydrate snacks, like bananas or quinoa, can be eaten after a workout to replenish energy

Exploring the Benefits of a High Carbohydrate Diet for Students in Nutrition and Health Training 

The ideal carbohydrate intake depends on the athlete’s type of activity and their total calorie goal. That said, endurance athletes might rely on carbohydrate-loading, which describes an increase in the intake of carbohydrates (around 8 to 12 g/kg) one to three days before an athletic event—usually occurring as athletes scale back their activities. 

In this way, carbohydrate-loading helps increase muscle glycogen storage, preventing fatigue by raising the fuel reserves in the body. This also helps boost stamina, which is heavily needed for endurance sports—ultimately improving performance during long and strenuous activities. However, it should be noted that athletes who don’t participate in endurance sports can manage with less carbohydrates in their diet. Students taking a nutrition diploma program will be able to better understand how different diets affect the body, learning more about sports specific nutrition and performance optimization. 

Carbohydrate-loading can help endurance athletes improve their performance

Additional Facts that can Impact Endurance Athletes’ Performance

While carbohydrate loading can improve performance, it might not be the most effective solution for every athlete. Students in nutrition and health training must learn to study each individual case, assessing the athlete’s fitness along with the intensity of their training and the demands of their athletic sport. For example, different carbohydrate combinations might work better for different athletes. Athletes might also have conflicting medical conditions (like diabetes) that should be addressed in relation to these diets. 

It’s important for athletes to develop diets that can help them work towards their training goals

Moreover, carbohydrate-loading can cause some side effects that endurance athletes should be aware of. This includes potential digestive discomfort (particularly with a low intake of high-fiber foods) and blood sugar changes (in response to the increase of sugar from high-carb foods). Those studying nutrition and health will be able to apply their understanding of sports specific nutrition in a way that helps their clients improve their fitness and health. 

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