Monday, March 10, 2008

What kind of carbohydrate?

Athletes often don't know what form of carbohydrate they should be consuming. Does it make a difference if you eat carbohydrate mostly in the form of sugar or should you eat only complex carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, rice, cereals and potatoes)? Some people regard sugar as 'deadly', while others wouldn't do without it and consider it a necessary part of their diets. Nutritionists advise that sugar and sugary foods should be limited to between 5 and 10 % of total daily energy intake. In other words, a moderate amount of sugar and sugary foods is not considered harmful. The higher the energy content of your diet, the larger the quantity of sugar you can eat. However, sugar and foods containing a large amount of sugar should never take the place of unrefined complex carbohydrates such as wholewheat bread, whole grain cereals and sweetcorn, as these supply other vital nutrients which sugar does not.

Diet Start

Sugar is a useful addition to the diets of athletes who need large amounts of energy, as it supplies a 'calorie-dense' food source. Athletes who take part in triathlons, for example, may find that they simply do not have the time when training two to three times a day to eat the amount of food they need to perform well. By including a small amount of calorie-dense foods - such as those rich in sugar - in their diets, these triathletes are able to fulfill their energy requirements without spending all their free time eating! However, those athletes who try to maintain very low body weights and who consequently eat very little, should obviously keep sugar and foods high in sugar to a minimum.

The fibre factor

Fibre, though not classed as a nutrient, and not actually absorbed by the body, is an important component of our diets, whether we are athletes or sedentary individuals. Found exclusively in plant foods, a low intake of fibre has been linked to various 'Western' diseases. Much of the natural fibre in plant foods is lost in food refinement and this together with a high consumption of animal foods, results in the average Westernized diet being low in fibre. We should all aim to eat at least 30 grams of fibre per day.


Fat is the other nutrient that is a chief source of energy in our diets. Athletes and the public in general should aim to consume no more than 30% of their total daily energy in the form of fat. Endurance athletes who consume between 60 to 70 % of their energy in the form of carbohydrates, may have to limit their fat intake to 20-25 % of their total calories to allow for those calories obtained from carbohydrates and protein. The main advantage of fat is that it is a very concentrated source of energy (9 calories/37,8 kilojoules per gram). When fat is used as a source of fuel during exercise, it has the advantage of 'sparing' glycogen. A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can cause raised blood cholesterol levels, even in athletes who train vigorously, so both should play a limited role in any diet.

... andjoyohoxing