Healthy Carbohydrate Diet for an Athlete

By | November 12, 2008

Athlete Players and Carbohydrate Diet for Athletes

The dietary practice of eating high carbohydrates food the day before an event is popularly known as carbohydrate loading or carb loading. This practice is particularly widespread among endurance athletes like marathon runners. The reason for this is that a high carbohydrate intake maximizes the storage of glycogen in your muscles. We shall talk about glycogens later, but to put it simply carbohydrates constitute the main ‘fuel’ source for your body.
Carbohydrates comprise of starch and sugars and are ideally the major dietary energy providers. Starchy carbohydrates are in fact the main energy source. Starch is not just valuable as your body’s best source of ‘fuel’, but is also an important nutrient in your diet.

Carbohydrate Nutrition for Athletes

Starch is the main source of most of our glucose; the only fuel our brains can use, and starchy carbohydrates also have a high fiber content. This off course does not explain the practice of carb loading, but there is valid reason and some merit in this. Since we store only a limited amount of glucose in the body it is necessary to have a regular intake of starch, because starch gets converted into glycogen, which is stored in the muscles and liver. The storage of glycogens is so important because it is then used as a source of energy for the muscles, when exercised, by being converted back into glucose. While body fat is also an energy source that can be used if muscles run out of glucose, it is just not efficient. High levels of glycogen will therefore help you to exercise to your fullest potential, while low levels will cause fatigue and an exercise routine that is not as intense.
The aim of carbohydrate loading therefore is to significantly increase glycogen stores above the normal levels, with the intention of delaying the onset of exhaustion or fatigue during an event. The best way to implement the method effectively is by following a seven day carb loading plan, prior to the event.

  • On the first day indulge in an hour of endurance training so that the glycogen stores in your muscles get depleted.
  • For the next three days gradually reduce your training time and intensity and eat a diet with a moderate carbohydrate intake.
  • On the last three days reduce your training even further and get some rest, while increasing your intake of carbohydrates.

Some good food sources of starchy carbohydrates include whole wheat bread and cereals, porridge oats, potatoes, beans, lentils, pasta, noodles and rice. Exercise or athletic sessions that stretch out for over an hour will require more energy than your body is capable of storing, as there is a limit to glycogen stores. In such situations isotonic sports drinks can help while exercising.