Neil Gardner, Contributor
Proper nutrition for athletic performance will comprise mainly two categories: nutrients that build the body and nutrients that fuel the body. Proteins, vitamins, minerals and essential fats are predominantly building materials. All carbohydrates are predominantly fuel. Although proteins and fats may also be used for energy, muscles prefer carbohydrates for their source of energy. Carbohydrates that are digested will be first broken down into glucose and then later stored as glycogen in the muscles.
The problem with carbohydrate nutrition and timing is that eating the wrong type of carbs at the inappropriate time may be detrimental to athletic performance. Simple carbs such as Irish potatoes, carrots, honey, bananas, and white rice may cause fluctuations in your insulin levels. Insulin fluctuations actually reduce glycogen storage and hurt athletic performance.
In designing our athletes' carbohydrate nutrition in London, the primary goal should be to achieve the highest levels of muscle glycogen before competition. The level of glycogen in the muscles before you start exercise is the most important fuel determinant of performance. Glucose in the blood from carbohydrates just digested cannot be used by the muscles nearly as effectively as muscle glycogen formed from carbohydrates taken some hours previously.
Timing is key
The timing of carbohydrates between competitions is key. Muscle glycogen synthesis is most rapid within the first four to six hours immediately after exercise. This is the most critical time to resume carbohydrate repletion. Both complex and simple carbs are important at this time as the body needs sugars quickly as well as over a sustained period. This is probably the only time that you can actually get away with simple sugars, as the high demand for muscle glycogen right after exercise shunts the glucose directly into the muscles, so no insulin instability can occur.
The actual amounts of carbohydrates needed by different athletes depend on athlete individuality, body weight, training intensity and training duration. A simple rule of thumb to know if you are getting enough is to watch the scales. If you are losing weight over the course of a few weeks, then you probably need more carbohydrates. If you are gaining weight, then you are probably eating too much. Obviously this is an oversimplification, but it does give us something to work with.
To ensure optimal carbohydrate nutrition, carbs should be eaten in small meals throughout the day up to three hours before the start of exercise or competition. We should eat more complex carbs and less simple carbs, except immediately after exercise. Complex carbs include sweet potatoes, beans and peas, yams, oats, brown rice, wholewheat bread. Simple carbs include white breads, white flour, spaghetti and raisins.
Dr Neil Gardner is an Olympian, a doctor of chiropractic, and a diplomate of the American Chiropractic Neurology Board. They are located at: Gardner Chiropractic & Neurology Ltd, Suite 15, Braemar Suites, 1D-1E Bramar Avenue, Kingston 10. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.