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5 Reasons Why You Need Carbohydrates to Fuel Your Exercise

Author: Dana Ryan
Healthy high fiber diet food concept with legumes, fruit, vegetables, wholegrain bread, cereals, grains, nuts and seeds. Super foods high in antioxidants, anthocyanins, omega 3 and vitamins. Rustic wood background, top view.

All carbs are bad! - This common misconception has left people feeling confused about whether to consume carbs. People often opt for a low-carb diet without understanding that there are many healthy carbohydrate food sources to choose from, and that they are one of the Big Three macronutrients that our body needs.

Balanced nutrition is crucial for exercise, and its fundamentals depend on a balanced intake of the macros - protein, carbs, and fats. Carbohydrates are especially important as they are an essential source of energy in an athlete's diet and help maintain peak performance during physical activity.

Here are five reasons why you need carbs in your diet to help with exercise and performance:

1.      Carbohydrates fuel the brain and muscles.

Include healthy carbs like brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain bread and pasta, sweet potatoes, fruits, and vegetables in your daily diet. Carbohydrates are the principal energy source for our brains and bodies to function well, as they provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. Think of it as fuel for your car: our bodies store carbs in our muscles as glycogen, which is then converted to glucose when you need it. Carbs help delay fatigue, sustaining you through prolonged workouts or competitive sports.


2.      Carbohydrates prevent muscle breakdown.

Each macronutrient that your body needs has a unique role to play in carrying out day-to-day bodily functions. If you limit carbohydrates, protein will be needed as an energy source and not get utilized to build lean muscles. But when you consume enough carbs throughout the day, the protein consumed remains free to perform its main task, which is to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Hence, adequate carbohydrate intake can prevent muscle breakdown from glycogen depletion, especially if you’re working to repair or build your muscles.


3.      Carbohydrates should make up most of the diet.

The daily carb needs vary from individual to individual depending on the type of exercise, sports, or fitness regime they engage in daily. Individuals engaging in a general fitness program can usually meet their daily needs by consuming a balanced diet of about 3 to 5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight. However, those who need a lot of endurance and stamina to sustain training and exercise require a high-carb diet. Athletes may need to engage in carbohydrate loading (i.e., tapering exercise and eating higher than normal levels of carbohydrates) to fuel performances such as marathon running, etc.


4.      Carbohydrates before a workout will boost your performance.

Research reveals that eating a high-carbohydrate diet before prolonged exercise helps improve endurance and performance and is crucial for athletes preparing to compete. Subsequent studies also proved that fatigue occurs when muscle glycogen concentrations reduce to low values, confirming its importance during prolonged exercise. Hence, activity longer than one hour requires extra attention to carbohydrate refuelling.


5.      Carbohydrates support and accelerate muscle recovery.

Study suggests that after a heavy workout, your body requires both protein and carbohydrates to rebuild muscles. The glucose from the carbs provides the muscles with energy to repair themselves using protein. Hence, consuming carbohydrates after exercise helps replenish the energy stores that get used up during strenuous exercise.

Remember, balanced nutrition is key to maintaining your active fitness routine, so the sooner you get glucose into your bloodstream after a workout, the faster your muscles start rebuilding themselves to become stronger. A post-exercise recovery shake with a right balance of carbohydrates and protein is the perfect way to refuel.