While it seems most people are trying to cut carbs from their diet, I’m trying to do the exact opposite. Although carbs are feared by most people, they are an important part of an athlete’s diet. If you want to perform at your best, carbohydrates are key. While you may have heard some hype about high fat diets for athletes, it isn’t as good as it sounds. While cutting back on carbs and increasing fat intake will lead to increased fat oxidation during exercise, this doesn’t translate into improved performance. Research supports that performance is better following a high-carb diet rather than a high-fat diet. Remember, medals aren’t awarded for the type of fuel used during exercise (fat versus carbs), but rather who is able to perform the best.
Carbohydrate needs are variable depending on an athlete’s level of physical activity and body size. It can range from 3 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight on an easy or rest day to 12 grams of carbohydrates per kg body weight during carbohydrate loading. Most athletes fail to eat enough carbohydrates, myself included. I did a calculation for myself and figured that I should be aiming for about 330 grams of carbohydrates on an average day. I typically eat a snack pre-run, 3 meals and 2 snacks each day. From this, I figured that I should aim for 80 grams per meal and then 3 snacks containing 30 grams of carbohydrate each.
I decided to take a look at my diet. Please note that this is very rough estimate since I didn’t weigh/measure my food (who’s got time for that?). I also only counted the available carbohydrates in grain products, starchy vegetables, fruit and dairy products and not in vegetables, meats, nuts etc. When I looked at my diet, I did well at breakfast, but it got worse as the day went on:
Pre-run: Homemade muffin (30 grams). Total= 30 grams
Breakfast: 1 cup dried oats (45 grams) with 1 cup Greek yogurt (10 grams) and ½ cup berries (5 grams). 2 rice cakes (15 grams) with peanut butter. Total= 75 grams
Lunch: Turkey sandwich (30 grams), apple (15 grams) and spinach salad. Total= 45 grams
Snack: 1 cup Greek yogurt (10 grams) with ½ cup berries (5 grams). Total= 15 grams
Dinner: Salmon, Brussel sprouts and a large baked potato (40 grams) with 2 tbsp ketchup (10 grams). Total= 50 grams.
Snack: Rice cakes (15 grams) with peanut butter. Total= 15 grams
My grand total: 190 grams….
I clearly needed to up my carbohydrate game, so I put together an increased carbohydrate action plan:
Pre-run: no changes
Breakfast: no changes
Lunch: Replace apple with yogurt parfait: 1 cup regular yogurt (10 grams) with ½ cup berries (5 grams), 1 tbsp maple syrup (13 grams) and ¼ cup granola (20 grams) mixed in
Snack: Replace with 1 large banana (30 grams) with peanut butter
Dinner: Add in 1 cup milk (15 grams) and a peach (15 grams)
Snack: Replace rice cakes with 2 slices of bread (30 grams)
Believe it or not, even dietitians don’t have a perfect diet. However, I know that if want to perform at my best, properly recover and stay healthy, eating adequate carbohydrates is key.
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