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  • Hallie Mann

The Importance of Carbohydrates for Performance

Updated: May 17

More than just fuel, carbohydrates are an important part of an everyday diet providing energy, fiber, and micronutrients that are used by our bodies to fuel our lives. They also play a critical role in providing energy for our bodies and are essential to improving exercise performance.

And carbs are delicious!

Athletic Performance, Carbs and Glycogen Storage

Carbohydrates are the most efficient energy source for the body and should be consumed before, during and after exercise for improved performance.

Consumed before athletics, carbs are broken down quickly to sustain energy during long training sessions and when sufficiently consumed boost performance when training at a high intensity. In fact, it is carbohydrates that help maintain the body’s glucose storage, called glycogen, which play a significant role in decreasing muscle fatigue during exercise.

During performance, the glycogen stores of the muscles used are utilized to provide energy. For example, the action of squatting uses glycogen stored in the legs. When the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates for energy, performance suffers. Adequate carb consumption prevents this from happening.

Consumed after exercise, carbs aid in muscle repair and refill depleted glycogen stores. Eating carbs both before, during and after athletics completes the circle.

Okay, carbs are delicious but what should I eat?

We are surrounded by an abundance of carbohydrate rich foods. When there are so many choices, it’s helpful to remember that there are no good or bad foods. You are not good or bad for choosing to eat a certain food at a certain time. The best food is the one you choose to eat, that will serve your needs and lifestyle.

Choose foods that leave you satisfied, taste good and remember to feed your body.

All carbs are great. Some are complex carbs, some are nutrient dense, and some are a great source of fiber. We suggest mixing it up and eating a variety in a balanced diet.

  • Grains (oats, quinoa, pasta, rice, bulgur, farro, cereals)

  • Breads (bagels, biscuits, tortillas, muffins, pancakes, waffles)

  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, winter squash, sweet potato)

  • Snacks (crackers, granola, popcorn, pretzels, chips)

  • Beans and Lentils (lentils, beans like black, garbanzo, kidney, pinto, lima)

  • Fruit and fruit juice

  • Dairy products

  • Desserts and sweets

A Quick Overview of Carbs

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients found in food.

Molecules, Glucose and ATP Carbs are made of sugar molecules and are classified by how many sugar molecules are chained together. One single sugar, like glucose and fructose, is called a monosaccharide. Two sugars together, like sucrose or white sugar and lactose, are called disaccharides. Together, mono- and disaccharides are sometimes called simple sugars.

Any carbohydrates with more than 2 sugar molecules are called a polysaccharide, and these are sometimes referred to as complex carbs. When digested, they are broken down into glucose, absorbed into the bloodstream, and transported all over the body to be taken into cells. Inside our cells, glucose is converted to ATP and used as energy to fuel many biological processes.

Energy - Carbs are the preferred energy source for the body. In fact, glucose from carbohydrates is the primary energy source for the brain. Carbs also help maintain the body’s glucose storage for release between meals and snacks. The stored form, called glycogen, is found in muscle and the liver. It is released when blood glucose falls below normal range to help maintain a typical level.

Fiber - Some complex carbs are known as fiber. Dietary fiber is not broken down in digestion. Its role is to travel through the digestive system to keep things “moving” in a regular way. It also helps to reduce cholesterol levels and has been linked to a decrease in hearth disease. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber brings water to the intestine and makes bowel movements easier. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and helps it move through the digestive track quickly.

Eat your carbs today!


Hearris, M. A., Hammond, K. M., Fell, J. M., & Morton, J. P. (2018). Regulation of muscle glycogen metabolism during exercise: Implications for endurance performance and training adaptations. Nutrients, 10(3), 298.

Kanter, M. (2018). High-quality carbohydrates and physical performance. Nutr Today, 53(1), 35-39.

Slavin, J., & Carlson, J. (2014). Carbohydrates. Adv Nutr., 5(6), 760-761.

Soliman, G. A. (2019). Dietary fiber, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. Nutrients, 11(5), 115.

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