Although carbohydrates and their role in fueling the body has been well studied, many athletes (recreational and professional) remain unsure if and how much carbohydrate they need to support training, performance and activities of daily life.¹
Body fat and glycogen (carbohydrate) stores are the main sources of fuel for the body, with carbohydrates being the key fuel source for exercise. Unlike fat stores, which are relatively plentiful, carbohydrate stores are limited to what the muscles and liver can hold.² Therefore, it is important for athletes to eat adequate amounts. Carbohydrate requirements are individual. They will vary day to day based on the frequency, duration and intensity of activity participated in. On active days, individuals should plan to increase carbohydrate intake, while on low active days, individuals should plan to reduced carbohydrate intake.¹
Here are a couple of different ways to estimate carbohydrate needs…
Daily needs for fuel and recovery:
|Situation||Suggested carbohydrate targets|
|Light||Low intensity/skill based exercise||3-5g/kg body mass|
|Moderate||Moderate exercise (~1 hr/day)||5-7g/kg body mass|
|High||Moderate-high intensity (1-3hr/day)||6-10g/kg body mass|
Another way to view needs: Plan about 45-60g carbohydrate/meal and 15-30g carbohydrate/snack or small meal. Choose fewer carbohydrate foods on lower activity days. 15 grams is about…
|1 slice bread/small roll||1 medium apple||1 cup milk|
|¼ bagel||½ large banana||¾ cup plain yogurt|
|½ cup dry cereal or cooked hot||1 cup berries|
|1/3 cup pasta||1 cup melon|
|1/3 cup rice||½ medium pear|
|½ cup corn||¾ cup pineapple|
|½ cup medium potato||2 Tbsp raisins|
|½ cup beans/lentils|
|2 cups popcorn|
What are good types of carbohydrate foods to choose? Look for carbohydrates that contain other nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Good choices include whole grain breads and cereals, fruit, starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, corn, low fat dairy products. Plan to limit or avoid higher calorie and more nutrient poor carbohydrate choices like soft drinks, juice, sports foods (drinks/gels/bars), pastries, cakes, chips.
One of my favourite carbohydrate-rich foods are sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a good source of Vitamin A (when eaten with the skin on), Vitamin C and Fibre. They taste great roasted, but can also be served steamed or mashed. Homemade oven sweet potato fries are a healthier alternative to traditional French fries. Use the recipe below as a good starting point, but feel free to adjust seasonings how you like.
Sweet Potato Oven Fries
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
- Line a large baking sheet (or 2) with parchment paper
- Preheat oven to 425 degree F.
- Slice sweet potatoes into thin, match stick sized pieces
- Add sliced sweet potatoes to a large bowl and mix with olive oil and seasonings
- Transfer fries to a baking sheet (for crispier fries ensure there is a space between each piece).
- Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping the fries half way
- Serve hot and enjoy.
(For spicy fries try adding paprika, cayenne pepper and cumin; for savoury fries add extra garlic, oregano and thyme; for sweeter fries try adding maple syrup and cinnamon)
- Carbohydrate – The Facts. Australian Sports Commission. http://www.ausport.gov.au/ais/nutrition/factsheets/basics/carbohydrate__how_much. Published February 2014. Accessed January 18, 2016.
- Burke LM, Kiens B, Ivy JL. Carbohydrates and fat for training and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2004;22:15-30.
- Sweet Potato – Benefits. North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/usda-sweet-potato-nutritional-analysis/benefits-of-sweet-potato/. Published 2016. Accessed January 18, 2016.