Lesson 10, Topic 1
In Progress

Carbohydrates – The Ultimate Performance Fuel: For Educators

Michael Bewley September 19, 2020


On the surface, getting the nutrition you need seems easy enough. After all, everyone eats something every day. Sports nutrition is a much more involved process. While the non-athlete may survive day-to-day by following general nutritional guidelines, an athlete’s needs are much more sophisticated.

Carbohydrates Are Good

Carbohydrates have a terrible reputation these days due to low-carb and no-carb diets that many resorts to as a quick fix to shed fat. You’ve heard of unbalanced diets. No bread, no pasta, no potatoes. Rice or fruit? Or they restrict your carbohydrate intake to a measly 30-50 grams per day. For the athlete, a low carbohydrate diet is performance suicide. Adequate carbohydrate intake plays a vital role in athletic endurance and muscular growth.

Carbohydrates Are Athlete’s Primary Source of Fuel

Carbohydrates are an athlete’s primary source of calories and serve as fuel for all sorts of athletic events. What happens when you skimp on this precious nutrient? Fatigue sets in – hardly the hallmark of a great athlete. Worse, if carbohydrates are too low, the body often chews up its muscle. Ironic right? An athlete turns to weight training as a means to bulk up or add size, yet without carbohydrates – or enough of them – the body ends up tearing down and burning up its existing muscle mass. That’s where protein comes into the picture.

Carbohydrates Food Sources

Some kinds of carbohydrates are far better than others. The best sources — whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and bean — promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients. Download the Critical Reload Food Sources Guide to review and post on your fridge for quick reference. 

Carbohydrates Quick Tips Guide


Food Sources Guide 607.00 KB 226 downloads


Spare Your Muscle

When carbohydrate reserves start to dwindle, protein needs to increase. Extra protein helps protect an athlete from losing muscle mass. Rather than chew up its muscle, supplying the body with more protein helps prevent a loss of muscle mass.

Carbohydrates are found in everything from the sugar in your sports drink to bread, potatoes, rice, and fruit. What’s the primary difference between the carbs in each of these foods? For the active athlete, it boils down to the vitamin, mineral, and fiber content. Sure, muffins, bagels, and fat-free ice cream are a decent source of carbohydrates (mainly sugar and fat). Still, they have fewer vitamins, minerals, and fiber than more natural sources of carbohydrates such as fruit, yams, sweet potatoes, brown rice, potatoes, and whole grains.

While the first rule of carb consumption is “to eat enough”, the second set of rules is to consume carbohydrates that are high in fiber (5 grams or more per serving), low in sugar (less than 25% of total calories per serving of sugar) and less processed (natural sources).

Carbohydrates Support Muscle Growth

When an athlete eats a bagel, rice, or pasta, it digests into a small unit of energy called glucose. In turn, glucose powers your training. It’s the fuel or energy used to give you that ‘go.’ Besides providing fuel – be it weight training, sprinting, and running – carbohydrates work with protein to put your body in an anabolic or growth state.

Anabolism, which means to grow, to get bigger & stronger, is dependent on carbohydrates. Carbohydrate foods help support growth by providing the body with the calories and energy to initiate recovery. Secondly, carbohydrates help protein “work better.” Yes, protein builds muscle — that’s a reason athletes should love protein yet, carbohydrates help protein foods reach your muscles. As we’ll see, carbohydrates and protein work together, and the ideal nutrition plan includes copious amounts of both.


  1. Blake, J. (2014). Nutrition & You, 3rd Edition. Retreive from Amazon.com.
  2. Clark, N (2013), Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Retrieve from Amazon.com.
  3. Gastelu, et al, (2015) Specialist In Performance Nutrition: Weight Control, Fitness, and Performance Nutrition. International Sports Science Association. Retrieve from ISSA Website.
  4. US Anti-Doping Agency: Nutrition Guide. Retrieve PDF file from USADA website.
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