These glucose molecules are stored in the liver and muscles to be used for fuel, especially during physical activity. Carbohydrates improve athletic performance by delaying fatigue and allowing an athlete to compete at higher levels for longer. 

Athletic Performance and Carbohydrates

When it comes to athletes and performance and their in-training fuel, carbohydrates remain vitally important just as they do in everyday meals and snacks. In order to maximize and optimize performance and recovery,  athletes need to continually load and reload muscle glycogen stores. This process can not happen with a low-carbohydrate diet. According to Ashley Chambers, M.S. and Len Kravitz, PhD, muscle glycogen is the primary fuel (followed by fat) used by the body during exercise. Low muscle glycogen stores results in muscle fatigue and the body’s inability to complete high intensity exercise. The depletion of muscle glycogen is also a major contributing factor in acute muscle weakness and reduced force production (strength and power). Both aerobic and anaerobic exercise decrease glycogen stores, so the need for carbohydrates is high for all types of exercise during this energy phase.


***Two of the top sports nutrition researchers, Jeukendrup, PhD, and Michael Gleeson, PhD, mention that there is convincing evidence from numerous studies indicating that carbohydrate feeding during exercise of about 45 minutes or longer can improve endurance capacity and performance2.

Carbohydrates are divided into four groups:

  • Monosaccharides - These are simple carbohydrates, also called simple sugars, which are made of one sugar. They are broken down quickly by the body and are the building blocks for complex carbohydrates.

  • Disaccharides - These are also simple carbohydrates that consist of two chemically-linked monosaccarides. They come in the form of lactose, maltose and sucrose.

  • Oligosaccharides - These are complex carbohydrates that consist of three to ten sugars. They are rich in vitamins and minerals; and, because they are fiber-rich, they are slower to digest than a simple carbohydrate.

  • Polysaccharides - These are also complex carbohydratges and are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber; but, they have larger numbers of sugars than an oligosaccharide.

Foods with Simple Carbohydrates

  • Baked goods (including bread)

made with white flour

  • Cake

  • Candy

  • Candy bar

  • Carbonated drink

  • Chocolate 

  • Cookie

  • Corn syrup

  • Fruit juice

  • Fruit preserve or jam

  • Fudge 

  • Honey

  • Whole milk

  • Plain, full fat yogurt

  • Most packaged cereals

  • Pasta made with white flour

  • Table sugar

Foods that Contain Complex Carbohydrates

  • Apple

  • Apricot

  • Artichoke

  • Asparagus

  • Banana

  • Blackberry

  • Black current

  • Blueberry

  • Broccoli

  • Brown rice

  • Brussels sprout

  • Buckwheat

  • Buckwheat bread

  • Cabbage

  • Carrot

  • Cauliflower

  • Celery

  • Cherry

  • Cranberry

  • Cucumber

  • Dill pickle

  • Dried apricot

  • Eggplant

  • Garbanzo bean

  • Grapefruit

  • Kidney bean

  • Kiwi

  • Lemon

  • Lentils

  • Lettuce

  • Low fat yogurt

  • Lychee

  • Melon

  • Multi-grain bread

  • Museli

  • Navy bean

  • Oat bran bread and cereal

  • Oatmeal

  • Okra

  • Onions

  • Orange

  • Peach

  • Pear

  • Pinto bean

  • Plum

  • Potato

  • Prune

  • Radish

  • Raspberry

  • Skim or low fat milk

  • Spinach

  • Split pea

  • Soybean

  • Soy milk

  • Strawberry

  • Turnip green

  • Wild rice

  • Watercress

  • Whole barley

  • Whole meal bread

  • Whole meal flour

  • Whole meal pasta

  • Yam

  • Zucchini

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