In this article, I’m going to shed light on carbohydrates and how you can incorporate them into your eating plan for top results. I’m going to dispel a number of misconceptions about “carbs” and teach you that they are not only essential to life, but one of the greatest performance enhancers when used properly. Knowing the right types of carbohydrates to eat at the right time can literally change your performance for the better, so I’m here to help you understand the ins and outs of how and when to use them.
Don’t Sugar Coat Your Carbohydrates!
Let’s start with setting the record straight about exactly what a carbohydrate is – sugar. Carbohydrate may be a fancy word that scientists use, but all in all any carbohydrate is sugar. Carbohydrates can be known as simple or complex, with a simple sugar being a small, quickly processed molecule where a complex carbohydrate is a much bigger, slower processing molecule. Regardless of whether you eat a simple or complex carbohydrate, your body breaks it down to a very simple form of sugar called glucose. So, let’s say you eat a commonly known carbohydrate such as a potato. The carbohydrates that are stored in the potato will be broken down in your body to supply usable energy in the form of glucose. The same holds true for pasta, rice, bread and even table sugar – they all end up as glucose in your body. This basic energy source can then be used to not only fuel your muscles during training and racing, but is also used by your brain as its primary fuel. Carbohydrates are very important for you to understand if you want to perform at your peak because of their necessity for mental and physical exertion.
The Glycemic Index
Most people, when asked can name at least five foods that mostly are made up of carbohydrates: pasta, rice, bread, potatoes and fruit are not only common answers, but also correct as well. Carbohydrates mostly come from plant-based foods. Animal based foods such as meats are mostly comprised of protein and fat and are low in carbs (milk does have a fair amount of carbs in it however).
Every carbohydrate has a specific “speed” at which it is converted to glucose. The measurement of this speed is known as the Glycemic Index or GI for short. Pure glucose is the standard by which other carbohydrates are measured and it has a GI value of 100, which is a fast absorbing carbohydrate. Any carbohydrate with a GI value under 50 is considered a slower, longer-term energy provider, while foods between 51 and approximately 75 are good general energy providing carbohydrates. Finally carbs with a GI rating between 76 and 100+ are short-term energy providers. Foods in each of these ratings has its place in helping athletes perform at their best.
What Carbs to Eat and When
Now that you have a basic understanding of exactly what a carbohydrate is, the next step is to look at specific foods and their GI values and ultimately when to eat them so they help you maximize your performance in the gym and on the track. Below is a list of common carbohydrates, their specific GI value and a recommended time to eat them:
|Carbohydrate Source||GI Value||Recommended Timing/Use|
|Potato, White, with Skin||69||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Potato, White, no Skin||98||Used after training or riding for quick recovery|
|Potato, Sweet||48||Used before training or riding for sustained energy|
|Rice, White||~70||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Bread, Whole Wheat||~72||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Bread, Rye||~55||Used before training or riding for sustained energy|
|Pasta, White||~45||Used before training or riding for sustained energy|
|Pasta, Whole Wheat||~45||Used before training or riding for sustained energy|
|Oatmeal, Instant||~83||Used after training or riding for quick recovery|
|Oatmeal, Porridge||42||Used before training or riding for sustained energy|
|Banana||~55||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Cantaloupe||67||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Strawberries||40||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Carrots, Raw||16||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Carrots, Boiled||33||General purpose carb for before or after training/riding|
|Gatorade||89||Used after training or riding for quick recovery|
Note: How you prepare your foods, including the method of cooking as well as sauces that may be added can change the GI values significantly. For a full list of individual food, go to www.glycemicindex.com
Dialing in the Glycemic Index
Just like a high-performance motorcycle for example, your body needs quality fuel if it is to perform at its peak. Knowing what type of carbohydrate to eat and at what time will give you a distinct advantage over your completion on and off the track. ACTIONETIX athletes generally eat five custom-designed meals each day so they can maximize their efforts during training, practice and racing. Incorporate these principals into your day to day routine and you will quickly see the positive benefits.
If you are like this article, you may be interested in how to use protein for performance.