Advice from a Dietitian. Part 1 of 4: The Truth About Carbohydrates
“Oh you’re a dietitian? I need you to make me healthier, what’s the magic spell?” This is the infamous question that I hear time and time again. Is there some sort of magic that all these Insta-famous people are using to make them so much healthier than the rest of us? As much as I wish I could tell you about my years as a young Gryffindor, I have to tell you that there really is no quick fix to a healthier you. However, I can offer some advice that can help lead you to a healthier lifestyle. See below for the first of a 4-post series:
Carbs are not the devil
Have you ever felt really crappy during a workout, and you just couldn’t understand why since you were trying to eat healthy by totally avoiding carbs and focusing on only protein and veggies? Well, I am here to tell you that our bodies actually NEED carbohydrates, and we use it as our main source of fuel. Research has shown that the energy demands of exercise determine that carbohydrate is the predominant fuel for training. Carbohydrates in conjunction with protein help our central nervous system to function properly, while also feeding brain activity and priming our muscles for optimal usage. Two sources of carbohydrate in the body (muscle glycogen and blood glucose) provide about half of the energy needed for moderate-intensity exercise, and about 2/3 of the energy needed for high-intensity training. A third source of carbohydrate in the body (liver glycogen) maintains blood glucose levels both at rest and during exercise. Since the body’s carbohydrate stores are limited and carbohydrate influences performance, it is important to enhance the availability of this macronutrient in your body before, during, and after exercise.
Daily carbohydrate recommendations for athletes range from 3-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. Light training programs typically require 3-5g/kg/day, this would be for low-intensity exercise or skills-based training. Moderate training programs lasting for about 1 hour a day should consume 5-7g/kg/day. Endurance athletes (training several hours daily) should then aim for 8-12g/kg/day. These are general recommendations that should be adjusted for each individual and their specific goals and training needs. Please see a registered dietitian if you are interested in assessing what is the best intake for yourself.
Now when we talk about the benefits of carbs, this does not mean I am recommending you run out and scarf down an entire box of Dunkin Donuts. Some carb sources are better options than others, there are 2 different classifications: complex and simple carbs. The simple sugars spike your blood glucose levels for a quick burst of energy (which is great during a tough workout), but then burn off quickly, which means you need to consume more to keep up. More complex sources that are higher in fiber, such as fruit or whole grains, slow the release of these sugars into the blood stream for a more steady energy source.
Bottom line? Don’t fear any food group and focus on building a winning plate: veggies, quality carbohydrate, lean protein, and a healthy fat. Please stay tuned for the next post, which will discuss the benefits of staying hydrated.
About the author:
Meagan began training at SAA a few years ago looking to learn the Olympic lifts. She started with a blank slate and learned to trust the process as our coaches worked on her technique and strength. As a Registered Dietitian, she has been able to fuel herself for performance as we programmed for her progression as a weightlifter. Meagan works as a Sport Nutrition Consultant for Renaissance Periodization and spent the last baseball season working for the World Series Champions, Chicago Cubs, as the clubhouse dietitian for their Triple A Minor league affiliate, the Iowa Cubs. Currently, Meagan works for Gatorade Sports Science Institute and is the Sports Dietitian for the Chicago White Sox.
Rosenbloom C, Coleman E, SCAN DPG. Sports nutrition a practice manual for professionals. 5th ed. Chicago,IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2012.
Coyle EF. Substrate utilization during exercise in active people. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995; 61(4 supple):S968-S979.
Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SH, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(suppl 1):S17-S27.
Rodrigues N, DeMarco N, Langeley S. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009:109:509-527.
Atkinson F, Foster-Powell K, Brand-Miller J. International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. Diabetes Care. 2008;31:2281-2283.