Importance of Carbohydrates
The easiest and one the most proven ways of improving performance is by manipulating carbohydrate intake, particularly for endurance type athletes or those involved in sports like football and basketball.
Carbohydrates are simple sugars or long chains of sugars which are linked together. Paradoxically, carbohydrates are the preferred fuel during exercise of high intensity but they are stored in extremely limited amounts in the body. This storage form of carbohydrate, called glycogen, is found primarily in muscles and liver. The glycogen in the muscle is used directly by the muscle which is being exercised. In other words, once its limited stores of glycogen are gone it cannot “borrow” from other resting muscles.
Depletion of glycogen by the working muscles leads to severely impaired exercise performance, which at its extreme is known as “hitting the wall”. This makes obvious the need to
1. Increase glycogen stores prior to exercise
2. Supply carbohydrate during prolonged exercise
How much carbohydrate is enough? We often express recommendations in terms of percentages of total calories. Even recreational athletes probably need to obtain 55-60% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Most people can do this if they consume 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. However, seriously training athletes probably require 4 grams of carbohydrate per pound body weight, or 60% of their calories from carbohydrate. For example, a 150 pound person who is playing everyday, say, 2 hours per day would require approximately 600 grams of carbohydrate daily. This carbohydrate would provide 2400 calories.
Examples of high carbohydrate foods:
Timing for carbohydrate If the carbohydrate is to be taken during exercise it should probably be in beverage form. Beverages may be more quickly absorbed than solids and present less potential for stomach upset. A sports-type drink that has a concentration of 6-8% carbohydrate is likely to be easily absorbed during exercise. Most people can tolerate 1/2 cup to 1 cup of liquid every 20 minutes. This tolerance depends upon the individual and the type of exercise performed.
To avoid hypoglycemia or low blood sugar during exercise, carbohydrate should probably not be consumed within 1 hour of the start of exercise. The best pre game strategy is to eat a light meal which contains 100 or so grams of carbohydrate 3-4 hours prior to exercise.
In addition, one of the best times to provide carbohydrate to the body is immediately after a workout. Immediately after exercise the muscle is most avid to restore the glycogen it has used during exercise. Perhaps the best way to restore glycogen is to keep a drink which contains carbohydrate in your gym bag, and drink it prior to leaving the locker room or before you hit the shower at home. Alternatively, you can eat a high carbohydrate food, such as bread, bagels, pretzels, or fruit. The goal is to consume at least 50 grams shortly after exercise.