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The Importance of Carbohydrates for Exercise Nutrition

The Importance of Carbohydrates for Exercise Nutrition

"Eat better, feel better" is a maxim many of us subscribe to.  But what foods are truly better when it comes to maximizing performance during exercise and endurance activities?  For decades, research has shown that eating carbs can help with exercise performance, particularly for endurance and high-intensity exercises (1). Studies show that carbs aid muscle growth and high-intensity exercise performance in several ways:

  • Provide fuel: Carbs play an important role in the anaerobic and ATP energy systems, which are the primary fuel sources for high-intensity exercise (2)
  • Promote recovery: Carbs may help with recovery after exercise (3)
  • Produce insulin: Carbs also produce insulin, which helps with nutrient delivery and absorption (4).
  • Reduce muscle breakdown: Carbs and insulin help reduce muscle breakdown, which may improve net protein balance (5, 6)
  • Improve neural drive: Carbs also improve neural drive, resistance to fatigue and mental focus during exercise (7).

The importance of carbohydrate intake becomes even more apparent with prolonged exercise duration. For exercises lasting 1-2 hours, carbohydrate has been shown to improve performance with a recommended amount of 30g per hour. With exercise duration of two hours or more, it's recommended to increase the intake up to 60g or more per hour (8). 

Additionally, as exercise duration and carbs intake increase, it is best to consume multiple sources of carbohydrates (simple and complex carbs) for optimal performance. 

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