Carbohydrates – why athletes need them

Carbohydrates – why athletes need them

What is your take on carbohydrates? They have got a bad beat in recent years by the Banters, but as an athlete can you go without them? While there are negative effects to carbohydrates, there are plenty of positives too. Get the lowdown from Mark Wolff, on this episode of 32Gi Sports Nutrition.



Welcome back to 32Gi Sports Nutrition with myself David Katz, Mr. Active and Mark Wolff. Recently we chatted about protein and the protein factor. Giving you all the information about it, how it should be consumed, how much especially looking at athletes.

Today it’s all about carbohydrates, which have become a bit of a controversial subject over the last couple of years, we’ll get onto that a little bit later. First of all carbohydrates Mark, they are something that athletes need?

MW: A hundred percent Dave. Carbohydrates are very critical and I’m going to give you the negatives and the positives of carbohydrates to start off this podcast.

The negative side to carbohydrates

Let’s look at the negatives first; carbohydrates are very addictive we know that. You know you walk past a bakery and you smell those croissants or those muffins and it’s a very attractive smell. Our brains are very attracted to that.

They are primarily acidic. So many carbs are generally acidic and generally you don’t want to eat a very high acidic diet. They can cause insulin spiking. In other words a big rise in blood sugar.

They can lead to weight gain obviously because of excessive eating, they can also cause inflammation. Carbohydrates are also generally the most incredible comfort food.

When people are needing some comfort and they trying to find it in food generally they will go for a carbohydrate. Also they feed the bad guy the quickest, by that I mean that carbohydrates converts to glucose quite easily.

So if you sick or you’re ill, have flu. By taking in a large amount of carbs you actually feeding the virus as opposed to starving the virus. That’s something that I tell a lot of people is to try and limit that. But let’s not look at only the negatives of carbohydrates.

The positive side to carbohydrates

Carbohydrates do have a lot of positive attributes especially if you’re an endurance athlete, and those are very specific. Number one they’re the quickest food converted to energy. They also come in the form of fruits and vegetables which have excellent nutrients and very good properties.

They also have an excellent source of fibre which helps with digestive function. They definitely are required for normal health function. You just cannot eliminate carbs from you diet.

DK: Now Mark your average run of the mill athlete, not training too much, not training more than hour half an hour not as critical. But when you look at critical endurance, you look at these ultra marathons, Cape Epic races; that you are really a long time out there, few days in a row you really do need carbs.

MW: Agreed Dave, and the amount of carbohydrates you take in as a person during the day will ultimately depend on the kind of person you are and obviously your lifestyle. We so unique in our DNA that each person has different requirements.

Finding the right amount of carbohydrates

Some can get away with less carbs, some need to take in more carbs but ultimately it’s a matter of tweaking. Finding the right amount of carbohydrates that you need to take in per day.

Obviously carbohydrates play a very critical role when it comes to endurance sport. Because we talking about fuelling during an event, we talking about pre event and obviously we talking about post event where carbohydrates will play a very critical role in recovery.

The amount of carbohydrates that a person will take during an event will ultimately depend on the kind of carbohydrates that he is use to taking. Also what his digestive system is capable of absorbing and utilising, because digestive comfort obviously play a very important role.

Carbohydrate intake during the event needs to be measured and understood what that level of comfort is. Obviously it sustains and manages those energy levels during an event properly.

We will be doing a podcast specifically on training and racing, fuelling strategies at a later stage. We can get into that in a lot more detail. The other aspect is the recovery aspect. I’m a very big fan of introducing carbohydrates post exercise. When I say that I mean it plays a very critical role in recovery.

What happens is that after exercise our bodies generally have much lower blood sugar, hopefully they have lower blood sugar. If we haven’t over fed ourselves during an event. That’s another mistake that athletes generally make.

But generally post exercise our blood sugar levels are slightly lower. That generally tends to lead to wanted calorie consumption, and generally in the form of bad what I call empty calories.

A lot of people just go for things to try and get their blood sugar up. It’s just an initial response. So taking in the right types of carbohydrates and timing that intake post exercise is a very important factor when it comes to recovery.

Again the amount of carbohydrates that you take post exercise will ultimately depend on the type of exercise that you’ve been doing. In other words has it been high intensity, has it been low intensity and what period of time have you been performing at that particular intensity.

DK: Well gauging from what you said there that there’s no magical number when it comes to carbohydrates and how much each person should be consuming. But you talked about also good verse bad and sort of easy calories.

When you look at carbohydrates it is controversial for a reason. What are the good ones, what are the ones we should be consuming and what are the ones that we should be staying away from?

What carbohydrates to eat and to avoid

MW: Look I think generally let’s first have a look at fruit and vegetables, to me those are very important carbohydrates. Because the nutrients in there are excellent for the human body.

Many fruits are very high in antioxidants they’re also very high in fibre. Many vegetables have excellent mineral properties as well. I mean they’re sources of calcium, magnesium, zinc even iron. So the think is they shouldn’t be avoided.

I generally recommend limiting your fruit intake more and actually opting for the very healthy vegetables on a much higher scale. Because generally fruit is the carb that would cause more weight gain if you over eat.

Again I look at fruit that are probably lower in sugar. That provide a lot of value but are generally lower in sugar. They don’t raise blood sugar significantly. So it’s a matter of finding that balance.

Of course if I do a very hard session there’s no reason why I can’t take a fruit that has got a slightly higher sugar response. Generally I would rather go for a fruit as far as a recovery goes or to get my blood sugar up again.

As opposed to eating things like chocolates and sweets. Those are things that the human body craves because obviously it is required. So take it in a healthy form as opposed to an unhealthy form.

DK: Now Mark obviously vegetables are a great source of carbohydrates and a way to get them in, but looking at starches. They are a staple throughout the world and more specifically refined carbohydrates. That’s one of the ones we shouldn’t be consuming.

MW: There I tend to agree with you a hundred percent. I avoid anything that’s processed or refined generally, I go for things that are far more natural. Another thing is that I limit severely the intake of starches. Reason being is that generally they are massive weight gainers.

I only utilise them for really possibly recovery or maybe for a pre-race or pre-training meal, where I do want to just up my carbohydrate intake to a certain extent to provide me energy. But in all honesty carbohydrate equals fuel and I only take in carbohydrate when I actually require that fuel.

Look to eat carbs with a higher protein content

So if you’re out there and you eating a lot of processed carbohydrates rather go for the natural carbs immediately. You notice a huge difference in your energy levels. Generally over time as well and your physique.

Things like wild or organic rice or things like quinoa which is slightly higher in protein. In other words the higher protein carbs are probably better options to go for. The higher fibre carbs are better options to go for.

To me potatoes are sort of an empty calorie, I don’t see the benefit. I get asked a lot about sweet potato. A sweet potato generally is slightly higher in fibre and maybe has a little bit more minerals here and there, but again it should be limited.

Again the timing of those meals and the amount of carbohydrates that you eating in those meals should definitely be looked at very carefully. I definitely recommend taking slightly higher carbohydrate meals post hard exercise. As opposed to just taking them at night when you not doing any training at all. Because you are not going to be utilising those nutrients.

DK: Mark some great advice and tips there when it comes to consuming carbohydrates. We know a lot has changed in the last couple of years with the Banting diet and the LCHF diet. Big topic that we’ll get onto it at a later stage. But obviously carbohydrates, sugars playing a key role there.

Mark thanks for joining us again here on 32Gi Sports Nutrition from myself David Katz, Mr Active, we’ve still got fat to come. Very important fuel so it’s how do you get it in? It’s one that the Banters do love, we’ll talk about that soon right here on 32Gi Sports Nutrition.

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