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Carbohydrates. Performance and Activity

Diet is certainly tied to performance, but how so? Proteins and fats help build and re-build tissues (muscles included) and form the foundation of our hormones and enzymes that control most of our bodily functions. So where do carbohydrates fall in our dietary needs? The easiest way to think of carbohydrate needs is to think of them as being activity dependant. By that we mean for a given day you should base carbohydrate intake on your activities for that day. If you have an easy or recovery day – limit your carb intake. A reasonable limit on recovery days is around 100 grams, and most of these 400 calories should come in the form of vegetables, fruits, and perhaps whole grains (like oats – not like boxed “whole grain” cereal!).

Training and performance – especially sessions lasting more than 1 hour, will need extra fuel in the form of carbohydrates. So if your planned afternoon session is a difficult one, base your carb intake on this – perhaps in the neighborhood of 200 grams of carbs for the day. These are estimates, of course, and individuals should adjust from these guidelines as needed. And if you are in-season or in a particularly difficult training block? The upper range for carb recommendations is 3 to 4 grams per pound of bodyweight. Again, this would be during a training block with a higher than normal volume, and these extra carbs should be spread throughout the day and more concentrated around your “workout window” – or the hour prior and two hours post-training. Most of these carbs should again come from vegetables, fruits and whole grains – and be as un-modified and un-processed as possible. This helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and insures a solid intake of vitamins, minerals, phyto-nutrients, and fiber.

“But Gatorade is a training staple – and workout drinks containing both carbs and protein have been shown to increase recovery rates by as much as 300%!!” We concede this point thoroughly. The ONE time you may want to include Gatorade (or the like) is in a session lasting more than an hour, and including a carb + protein drink somewhere in your workout window is a wise choice for faster recovery, as well. Gatorade throughout the day, though? Unless you are training all day, not a great idea. Your body has “storage” for excess fuel – it’s called body fat. And increased body fat is rarely if ever the path to improved performance.

Bottom line – concentrate carb intake around workout windows, eat an amount of carbs appropriate for your current activity levels, and carb-containing training drinks belong around training sessions (workout windows) – whether Gatorade or another. Eat carbohydrates to fuel your activity level and help your performance – don’t eat carbohydrates to fuel your fat cells!

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