Carbohydrates and Training - The role of carbohydrates as fuel ~ By Prue Mynard

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

Carbohydrates. Are they needed? Are they not? As a Dietitian, I regularly see clients, especially those who are training hard and trying to decrease body fat, who eat very minimal carbohydrates, thinking that it is the carbohydrates that will stop them achieving lean body mass.

Let’s clear the air with a few facts:

1. After consumption, carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, the simplest form of energy, and either used immediately as fuel or stored in the liver or muscle.

2. For every gram of glycogen that is stored in the muscle, 2 grams of water are also stored. This is a good thing as it means that there is also more fluid available to sweat out. It also means that if you drastically reduce the carbohydrate content of your diet, you will lose a couple of kgs quite quickly, simply because the body is no longer storing carbohydrate, so it is no longer storing water.

3. Carbohydrates are the predominant source of fuel for exercise. Carbohydrates are most easily utilised by the body, providing instant energy. Your body has to work harder to breakdown protein and fat to provide energy.

4. Your body will actually function more efficiently, and you are more likely to achieve your training related goals, if you have adequate carbohydrate to fuel the exercise that you are doing, along with adequate protein to allow for muscle repair and recovery and muscle protein synthesis.

5. Inadequate carbohydrate can lead to early fatigue, poor concentration and poor recovery, which ultimately, will result in injury. Low muscle glycogen will result in muscle fatigue and an inability to complete high intensity exercise.

With all this in mind, it is clear that carbohydrate is essential for performance and results when it comes to exercise. This does not mean that your meals need to be centralised around complex carbohydrates, instead aiming to include a low GI carbohydrate at each meal, a quality protein source, plenty of vegetables and some healthy fats. This will leave you more energised and seeing results sooner.

Good low GI carbohydrate sources include, wholegrains (oats, brown rice, basmati rice, wholemeal or pulse pasta, barley, freekeh, wholemeal cous cous), potato, sweet potato, sourdough bread, wholegrain bread, wholegrain crackers and fruit. One of these should be included with most meals and it is really important, unless you have an allergy or intolerance, not to eliminate foods or food groups.

To finish off, a great little saying:

“Fat burns in the carbohydrate flame”

This means that the carbohydrates are the energy for working muscles and while the carbohydrates are being burnt or utilised as fuel, the fats are being metabolised in the background.

Article Written By Prue Mynard Dietician & Nutritionist

For more information about Prue.


Alternatively Prue is available for Private Consult at Peninsula Physical Health & Nutrition (PPN) on the Mornington Peninsula.


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