What is the right amount of carbs for an athlete who practices an endurance sport?

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Carbs are the fuel that provides energy to the body and one of the macronutrients responsible for the athlete’s good performance during practice and competition. As soon as they get decomposed in the body, carbs settle down in the muscles (to provide energy), the liver (to keep glycemic balance) and in the blood (to give energy to the brain).

Endurance sports require foods that are high in carbs, that’s why it is so important to combine the amount and the quality of the foods with the schedule of your workouts and competitions, so you can keep the levels of glycogen in the muscles and liver, associated with the physical activity.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA), the Dietitians of Canada Association (DC) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) stand up for the daily intake of 6 to 10g of carbs per body weight.

Take the following info as reference, published by the Australian Institute of Sport:

Period of time and intensity

1. Low or Medium intensity sport, inferior to 60 minutes per day
2. Endurance workouts between 90 to 120 minutes per day
3. Endurance workouts of 6 to 8 h per day

Amount of carbs per day

1. 5 to 7 g/weight
2. 7 to 10 g/ weight
3. 10 to 12+ g/ weight

Example: Daily dosage of carbs for a 60kg athlete

1. 300 to 420g
2. 420 to 600g
3. 600 to 720g

How to calculate the amount of carbs in foods?

Take the following info as reference, published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Foods Carbs (g)
1 bowl of rice (186g)      53
1 glass of cream cheese (245g)   15
1 glass of corn flakes (60g)    40
1 bowl of pasta (160g)  40
1 glass of spaghetti (140g)  36
1 bowl of noodles (140g)  14
1 medium potato (16g)  15
½ cup of cooked beans (127g)  45
1 glass of chocolate milk (245g)    10
1 glass of orange juice (245g)  26
1 small banana (101g)  33
1 serving spoon of honey (21g)  15
1 medium apple (128g)    47
1 slice of melon (170g)     14
1 slice of bread (30g)  14
½ cup of cornflakes (80g)  17
3 slices of hot cake (39g)  15
½ cup of grapes (75g)  11
1 medium orange (184g)  13
1 serving spoon of syrup (20g)  23
1 medium pear (122g)  12
3 soda cookies (15g)  12
1 cup of fresh milk (244g)  26
1 cup of soy milk (245g)  26
1 spoon of molasses (20g)  14
1 medium kiwi (76g)  12
½ cup of soy (90g)  17
1 teaspoon of sugar (4g)  4

Note: You can combine these foods as you will, so you can reach the desired levels of carbs per meal.

Should we use supplements with carbs during practice and competitions?

If you walk into the “long distance” world, that is, athletics, cycling, triathlon, football or a similar sport, you will certainly better realize the importance of supplements with carbs. If you don’t replenish your energy, you will reach a critical point where your development will start dropping drastically. There are practical solutions to delay the exhaustion point and there’s a lot to choose from: gels, protein bars, isotonic drinks and pre-workouts.

powergel

protein bars

gold drink


  

When is the intake of carbs excessive?

Accordingly to a recent study published by PubMed, an endurance athlete should replenish his body with 78g of cabs per hour to increase his performance in about 5%. The study used a mix of 1:1:1 (glucose, fructose, maltodextrin).

While testing the athletes, it has been verified that if the amount of carbs exceeded 78g, the athlete’s performance would start decreasing and if the amount was inferior to 78g, the performance would increase. Conclusion: taking carbs improves performance but sometimes, when you reach a certain plateau, it is bad for your body instead of helping you.

Knowing that 80g of carbs corresponds to an average of 300kcal, which corresponds to 3 gels or 3-4 protein bars per hour, you would have to be replenishing energy every 20 minutes. However, this is a standard study and each body will react differently, so when you try these supplements we recommend that you do it gradually (ex: test 1-2- gels per hour) to see how your body will respond when you go on a long-distance run. You can also try several brands, tastes and textures and adapt the best method to your situation, because, as Nancy Clark states (well-known personality in the world of sports nutrition), each athlete should work out and check his/her tolerance level to supplements and carbs and establish his/her own values.

References:

Juan Lara, Suplementación con hidratos de carbono en deportes de resistencia: ¿qué cantidad?, 30th of October 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version

N/d, Resistência nutritiva – Hidratos de carbono, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version

Smith JW, Pascoe DD, Passe DH, Ruby BC, Stewart LK, Baker LB, Zachwieja JJ., Curvilinear dose-response relationship of carbohydrate (0-120 g·h(-1)) and performance, February 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version

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