Nov 18, 2016
Focus On Carbs
Susan Kundrat

Carbohydrate needs will vary for athletes depending on the stage of training, or which part of the season, athletes are in. In general, most athletes will need to eat between 50 to 65 percent of their diet as carbohydrate. However, this is a just a guide as both protein and carbohydrate needs are best calculated based on body weight and training as opposed to percentages of the total diet.

During the heaviest training phase of the season (pre-season or early season training), carbohydrate needs increase to supply the additional energy needed for longer, more intense workouts. For example, most athletes training one to two hours per day need an average of 3 to 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound per day (a total of 450 to 600 grams of carbohydrate per day for a 150-pound athlete), while athletes training three to four hours a day may need up to 5 grams of carbohydrate per pound per day (750 grams for a 150-pound athlete).

Athletes should pay particular attention to increasing carbohydrate before workouts so working muscles have optimal available energy and the body can also recover well after workouts. One hour before workouts, 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound is recommended, while 0.5 to 1.0 grams of carbohydrate per pound is needed if an athlete eats two hours before training. If an athlete is three to four hours out from a workout or competition, he or she should take in 1.0 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate for every pound he or she weighs in the pre-workout or pre-competition meal — that equals 150 to 225 grams of carbohydrate for a 150-pound athlete.

However, it’s important to note that these are general guidelines, and are not always feasible — especially from a gastro-intestinal tolerance standpoint. Athletes should be encouraged to eat a high-carbohydrate meal or snack before workouts and competitions, coming as close to the recommendations above as is practical.

Actual intake also varies depending on the sport. For example, a wrestler or gymnast may not necessarily want to take in the high level of carbohydrate before competition, but may do better with small, high-carbohydrate snacks leading up to competition. Some athletes will perform better with smaller snacks leading up to competition, rather than a big pre-game meal. They may prefer less on their stomach and GI tract going into competition so they don’t feel bloated or too “heavy” during competition.

Encourage athletes to focus on high-quality carbohydrates (100-percent whole grain bread products, 100-percent whole grain cereals, beans, peas, fruits, vegetables, natural soy products, and lowfat milk products) as primary sources of carbohydrates to maximize nutrition. Before, during, and after workouts, utilizing sports foods such as sports bars, sports drinks, and recovery shakes can be beneficial and practical.

Susan Kundrat, MS, RD, CSSD, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Kinesiology and the Nutritional Sciences Program Director at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the co-founder of RK Team Nutrition.

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