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What are the benefits of carbohydrates for athletes?

What are the benefits of carbohydrates for athletes? For too many athletes, their diet is based almost exclusively on starchy products. Unfortunately, the choice of starches that athletes make too often of poor quality (refined products) and insufficiently varied: very often pasta is on the menu.

Among the starchy products we find cereals (wheat, rice, maize) and their derivatives (bread, pasta), legumes (lentils, beans) and a number of tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes).

The starchy products have many interests for the athlete:

  • Important source of energy
  • A source of vitamins A
  • Source of minerals
  • Application of fibers

 Performance Svensson

Carbohydrates as a source of energy

Starchy foods are particularly rich in carbohydrates that give the athlete the energy needed to practice his sport. Carbohydrates are an indispensable energy source that are also easy to use, especially during intense and long-term efforts.

In endurance sports, carbohydrates and fats are used for energy simultaneously but in varying proportions. As the intensity of an effort increases, the number of calories from carbohydrates will increase and this origination of fats will decrease. With little effort (50% max oxygen intake, 80% max heart rate) you get the energy from both fats and carbohydrates at the same time and in the same proportion.

In daily life you get the energy mainly from carbohydrates. (1 g of carbohydrates gives you 4 kcal)


Daily need for carbohydrates

It is assumed that endurance athletes should consume between 5 and 10 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on:

  • the sports activity of that day
  • the intensity and duration of their performance
  • the weather conditions
  • possibly other individual criteria.

A daily intake of less than 4 g of carbohydrates / kg of body weight is insufficient to compensate your consumption and can lead to reduced performance.

Did you know ? 1 gram of carbohydrates gives you 4 kcal, while 1 g of fat gives you 9 kcal. The energy from carbohydrates, however, is more readily available than that from fats. For the burning of fats, more oxygen is needed, which therefore works a lot less efficiently.

During rest days, you should reduce the intake of carbohydrates as your needs are lower at that moment. Eat just enough to enable a good recovery of the efforts of the past few days.

The recommended intake is difficult to display in a general table. Everyone has to evaluate this for themselves in accordance with the impact of excess carbohydrates on weight (ie percentage of fat mass compared to muscle mass), general well-being and your performance.

Energy from proteins? If you do not get enough carbohydrates, proteins can also be burned. As a result, the proteins are no longer available as building materials for recovery and to maintain resistance to disease.