Carbohydrate Needs of Athletes


fast carbs athlete blog

Carbohydrates sometimes get a bad rap…

…but they’re the body’s main source of energy during strenuous activity. When the body doesn’t have enough carbs, it has to break down something else to produce the energy required for sports and activities. This energy comes from the breakdown of fat and/or lean body tissue. When fat and muscle are broken down to produce energy, the result is a decrease in performance. It can decrease endurance too. This is a bad situation for an athlete!

For non-athletes the recommended carbohydrate distribution range is 45%-65% of total caloric intake. This recommendation provides a wide range that works for most individuals of varying activity level.

For athletes, the carbohydrate recommendations vary widely based on training volume, training intensity and type of training. An athlete that undergoes intense training or playing time 2-3 hours a day, and 5-6 days per week is recommended to have 5-8 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day. If an athlete is involved in intense training or playing time 3-6 hours per day and 5-6 days per week, then it is recommended that he or she consumes 8-10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day. In some cases, even higher recommendations are made.

Something that is often overlooked, and is likely a contributing factor to the negative connation associated with carbs, is the type of carbs consumed. The type of carbs consumed is just as important as the amount. In any diet, for any individual, athlete or otherwise, the majority of carbohydrate intake should come from complex carbs with a low or moderate glycemic index. These carbs are sometimes referred to as “slow-carbs.” 

Good examples of complex carbs include whole grains, some fruits, vegetables and legumes. Simple, fast burning carbs still play their own role and should not be excluded from the diet. These carbs have a higher glycemic index which means they absorb quickly into the blood stream. Simple carbs are great for quickly replenishing glycogen after a workout or a period of fasting.

As an athlete, what you put into your body is just as important as how you train your body. In order to optimize performance, you have to consume that right amount and type of carbohydrates; the game could depend on it!

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Logan Houser

CPT | Litchfield Park