Daily Carb Recommendations for Athletes
Some of the healthiest and fastest runners in the world consume a carbohydrate-rich diet. “Eating carbs is almost a universal practice among the world’s best endurance athletes,” says Matt Fitzgerald, a dietitian, writer and endurance runner. Fitzgerald explains the typical Kenyan diet is 78 percent carbs, and they dominate in distance running.
Still, the research and rumors on carbohydrates may, at a glance, conflict. However, you can experience great performance without sabotaging your health or body composition goals by prioritizing wholesome, nutrient-dense carb sources in place of processed, refined or nutrient-poor choices.
There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Both types of carbs break down into glucose (sugar), which fuels your body, but the difference is in how long that process takes.
Complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes, brown or wild rice, and oatmeal, are slow to break down and provide vitamins, minerals and fiber. These are the types of carbs you should eat during meals. Simple sugars, like bananas, honey and table sugar, break down quickly. Reach for simple sugars to top off your energy before a run or bolster it during a lengthy race or workout.
Be choosy with your carb choices, and plan carb consumption around exercise sessions and the most active parts of the day. For example, a morning runner should include carbs at breakfast and lunch but can taper off carbs at dinner and include more veggies and fruit. (Exception: If it’s the night before a long, intense workout or race, don’t skimp on carbs at dinner.)