While the paleo and Adkins diet fans may disagree, carbohydrates are our body’s favorite form of energy and the best choice for fueling your muscles. Consuming carbs before exercise is critical for optimum performance as it’s stored as glycogen in the liver and muscle. During exercise carbs will maintain your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Carbohydrates after exercise will restore glycogen stores to prepare you for your next training session.
Not all carbs are created equal. There are simple carbohydrates (sugars) and complex carbohydrates (starch).
Simple carbohydrate consist of sugars that are naturally occurring such as honey, maple syrup, molasses, cane sugar, agave nectar etc. and sugars found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy. There are also sugars that are added to foods such as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and brown rice syrup.
There is a lot of speculation on how naturally-occurring sugars are healthier than other sugars. Naturally-occurring sugars will offer a small amount of vitamins and minerals, but they are still sugars and should be consumed in moderation. Focus on receiving vitamins and minerals from whole food sources.
Keep in mind that different sugars are absorbed at different rates and it’s recommended to consume a variety of sugars during exercise for better absorption. When choosing a sports drink, look at the ingredient label for more than one type of sugar.
When reading the sports drink label, you may see ingredients such as maltodextrin. This is added as it provides a speedy absorption rate to get fuel to your muscles faster.
Starch is made up of sugar molecules linked together in a long chain, such as a string of hundreds of beads on a necklace.
Pasta, rice, bread etc. are great examples of starch. They are digested into glucose, burned as energy and stored for the readily available future use as glycogen.
Concerned about your weight? Carbs are not the enemy. The enemy is excess calories. Yes, there are studies that show a low-carbohydrate diet can provide successful, safe weight loss. But, for those that maintain a high activity level in their life, a low-carbohydrate diet will impact your performance in training and competition.
Athletes should aim for between 3 to 12 g carbohydrates per kg body weight per day (Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2). This is quite the range in carbohydrate intake. Here is a guideline to consider your own needs.
- Low-intensity exercise: 3 to 5 g/kg/day.
- Moderate-intensity exercise for up to an hour per day: 5 to 7 g/kg/day.
- Moderate to high-intensity exercise for 1 to 3 hours: 6 to 10 g/kg/day.
- Moderate to high-intensity exercise for 4 to 5 hours per day: 8 to 12 g/kg/day.
These general guidelines may need to be fine-tuned. Always trial your eating plans in training. Better to determine how your body responds in training instead of being surprised during competition.
Spread out your carb intake throughout the day, your blood sugar levels will thank you. It also will distribute fuel availability at the right moments of training sessions (Stay tuned to future posts discussing pre-, during- and post- exercise eating). Most importantly, choose the right carbohydrates. Aim for carbs from sources such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes that also provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals.
Keep your body warm and fueled right these winter months with minestrone soup. I struggle to get vegetables in throughout the day. Since I enjoy veggies in soup, I will add extra to the pot. This recipe seems as if it has a lot of ingredients, but this is actually very simple to prepare.Like many tomato-based recipes, this will taste even better the next day as the flavors develop further.
Minestrone soup freezes beautifully. I always make a huge stockpot, portion it into single-serving containers and freeze for future meals.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1-1/2 cups chopped celery
- 1-1/2 cups chopped carrots
- 2 (19 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes, drained
- 2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
- 1-1/2 cups cubed yellow potatoes
- 3 (32 oz) containers fat-free, 30%-less sodium chicken broth
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoons dried parsley
- 1 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 2-1/2 cups cooked whole-wheat elbow macaroni
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Add extra-virgin olive oil, onion, celery and carrots to a 16-quart stockpot at a medium heat. Sauté vegetables to release flavors, about 10 minutes.
- Add beans, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, potatoes, broth and garlic. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for approximately 1 hour until vegetables become slightly tender.
- Add cooked pasta, parsley, oregano, thyme, basil, salt and black pepper. Simmer for additional 30-45 minutes. Correct seasoning as needed. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.