What Carbohydrates Should You Eat During Your Diet?
Your dietary choices as an athlete can give you an edge, or sabotage all of those hours you spent training. So it's important to pay attention to what you eat and when you eat it. This is especially true with carbohydrates because they make up the bulk of an athletes diet and fuel. From no-carb diets to carbo-loading strategies, it's hard to know when is most beneficial to your performance diet. Take a look at our recommendations below:
Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates
So here is the trick! First, you need to know the difference between these two carbs as this will really help you determine which ones are best to take and when to take them.
Simple Carbs: these are the fast-absorbed carbs. They are broken down really quickly by the body and then absorbed quickly too.
- Examples of sugars are: fructose or sucrose
- Examples of foods are: fruits or candy, or some sports drinks (although many also have complex carbs too which, we will get to now)
- Great for quick and short training or when you need a quick energy boost.
Complex Carbs: these are the slow release carbs. They are broken down and absorbed slowly by the body.
- Examples of sugars are: green vegetables, fruits, potatoes, pasta, beans, lentils, and some sports drinks.
- Examples of foods are: potatoes, pasta and some sports drinks.
- Fantastic for medium to longer exercise. They are not good for a fast energy boost, but rather for a slow, constant energy supply
Let's dive into each main meal and give you an idea of when you should eat what. As the saying goes; " Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper." This keeps calories and carbs down late at night.
This first meal of your day is important to start your day off on the right foot. You need a constant supply of energy throughout the day so we need to focus, ideally, on more complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbs. Eating a healthy mix of whole grains like whole grain pancakes, whole wheat toast, or oatmeal will help the body absorb these carbs slower. Low fibre cereal is another quick option if you're pressed for time in the morning. By starting with this substantial carb foundation, you can add in some healthy protein choice like a hard-boiled egg, peanut butter or a little scoop of a protein shake.
Lunch is also ideally a complex carb meal, maybe with some simple carbs thrown in, as we all feel around this time lethargic or needing an energy boost. If you're pressed for time, grab a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. Change up the meats to get your protein intake, but stay away from empty carbs like French rolls or white bread. If you've got more time, enjoy a piece of grilled chicken with your favourite whole wheat pasta or brown rice on the side.
Just because you're finished with the day, doesn't mean you can load up on unhealthy carb choices like pizza and french fries. Choose a plate of whole wheat pasta with lean protein and a low-fat sauce. Another option is brown rice and salmon. Add in a baked potato for added carbs and some vegetables for a healthy, nutritious side. Try and stay away from simple carbs during this meal and continue making healthy choices for dinner and your body will thank you in the morning.
Though out the day you're going to need some carbs if you are doing more than 90 minutes of exercise at a time. It is during your snack time that you should stock up on nuts, dried fruits - like apples, raisins and/or apricots. Whole wheat crackers with cheese are also a good idea as they won't weigh you down and contain carbs and protein.
During a Workout
This is where you need a mix of both complex and simple carbohydrates. Great examples are some sports drinks out there that have a mixture of both. The American Council on Exercise states the best pre-workout foods are high in carbs, moderate in proteins and small in fats.