Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients (protein, fats & carbs), and the predominant source of fuel for high intensity exercise. They are found in breads, cereals, rice & pasta as well as fruits, vegetables & dairy.
After we eat these, carbs are broken down in the body to the simplest form – glucose – which can be used immediately as fuel, or will be stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen.
Basically, carbs are compounds of different sugars. We’ve all heard of glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose, & starch. That’s carbs.
Carbohydrates are useful for many functions in the body, including;
⁃ supplying energy to your brain
⁃ supplying readily available energy to muscles
⁃ preventing the breakdown of muscle tissues as an energy source, particularly post-training
⁃ assisting with digestion (fibre-rich)
⁃ slows the digestion process, helping you feel fuller for longer (fibre-rich)
The body has the ability to store glycogen, however, this storage is limited to only enough to fuel approximately 90 – 120 minutes of high intensity exercise. Once this store has been depleted, the body relies on ‘outside’ sources of carbohydrates to continue to fuel activity, as ‘inside’ sources are exhausted.
Without adequate carbohydrate intake, the body can suffer from hypoglycaemia – contributing to fatigue and an increased perception of effort. By utilising carbohydrates in training, we can improve our performance and reduce the effects of fatigue.
In terms of when to consume carbs and how much, this will depend entirely upon your own physical composition, as well as your training & resting schedule.
As an example, the consumption of a high GI carb meal approximately 2 hours prior to exercise, & a carbohydrate (& protein) rich meal post exercise, is recommended. This pre-exercise meal (&/or addition snack) will “top up” glycogen stores & help to prevent hypoglycaemia, & the post-exercise meal will help to replenish glycogen stores & assist with optimal immune function.
Don’t underestimate the power of carbs. They’re not all bad, & there are remarkable differences between the sources of carbohydrates we can eat – fresh fruit & vegetables, whole & refined grains, starchy vegetables, dairy, & processed foods including high sugary sweets.
Choose wisely & reap the benefits.