Carbohydrates and Endurance Athletes

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Pizza’s, pasta, good old pie these are guys have had a bad rap for the past couple of years but not just cause they are carbohydrates, the problem is they are processed carbohydrates. Carbohydrates has been made the devil by a lot of people, but including healthy carbohydrates can make a massive difference in overall health and sports performance.

What is an Endurance Athlete?

This can be split into 2 groups’ endurance athletes and Ultra endurance athletes. How they get classified is by the following definition.

Endurance athletes: An Athlete who participates in sports involving continuous activity lasting between 30 minutes and 4 hours involving large muscle groups.

Ultra-endurance athlete: A subgroup of endurance athletes who engage in extremely long bouts of continuous activity lasting more than 4 hours e.g. Ironman, triathletes, and ultra-marathoners.

One of the biggest concerns or stresses these athletes have is the large amount of strain they put on their bodies and how are they going to make sure their tanks are full to go the distance. Their energy needs are going to be a lot different to the shorter distance athletes and those who don’t exercise at all. Even among athletes depending on the physical activity level and other factors can determine what calorie requirements are needed and should be calculated by professionals.


Carbohydrates is one of the best sources of energy releasing foods, it plays a role in rapid metabolizing of fats for energy. Carbohydrates converts into glycogen which is used for the slow release of energy. Once your liver and muscles are depleted of glycogen this is when most athletes experience the term “hitting a wall” or “bonking’’, . Maintaining good levels of glycogen can also help with mental fatigue. If we have adequate glycogen levels we don’t have to use alternative sources of energy like protein in our muscles and liver glycogen.

Simple carbohydrates:  Fast releasing energy, normal table sugars is a good example, a better source would be fruit as they also contain a type of sugar and whole range of other nutrients required in a healthy diet.

Complex carbohydrates: These are also called starches. Starches include grain products, such as bread, crackers, pasta, and rice. As with simple sugars, some complex carbohydrate foods are better choices than others.

healthy breakfast

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How should we consume Carbohydrates?

Well we all have different list of requirements and different techniques on how to keep our bodies fueled, but below are some recommendations


4 – 24 hours before:

  • Carbohydrates should compose of the majority of each meal and Snack
  • Always aim to have a full tank when you begin exercising

0 – 4 hours before:

  • Aim to consume food and drinks that can be easily digested

During Competition

Matching energy expenditure during training / performance may not be practical or feasible. Make sure to develop eating plan that focuses on performance requirements of carbohydrates, fluid and sodium (I wrote about the cramps I got with lack of sodium), to ensure all our energy levels are maintained during performance.

Sugar during exercise delays fatigue-replaces glycogen stores quickly

Carbohydrate recommendations: 30-60g Carbs/hr

Types of CHO foods and fluids:

➢ Sports drinks

➢ Energy bars

➢ Energy gels

➢ Fruits

➢ Granola/breakfast bars

Post competition

General guideline: 200-300 calories immediately after training or competition follow with a meal 1-2 hours after. Should supply calories, macros, micros and fluids

adult bread breakfast chef

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Carb loading

Effective way of maximizing muscle glycogen stores prior to endurance events increasing muscle glycogen levels can increase the time to exhaustion and prevent “bonking”.

6-7 days leading up to competition, taper training and rest muscles During tapering, Carbohydrates  should increase from 50-55% of total calories to 65- 70%

Carbohydrate 500-600g CHO/day

During the tapering period, calorie expenditure is decreased Should be factored into nutrition plan carbs requirements increase Overall calories should be cut to prevent weight gain Cut back on fat consumption until the event Protein needed for repair-should not be decreased dramatically to cut calories.


I would really love to hear how your carbo loading plan works. Do you have a go to meal to assist with your energy level during training and competition? For long carbohydrates have been made the enemy especially in aims to lose weight, but it’s so essential for energy I feel it important for us to make sure we are educated before we cut any food group out ones diet.


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  1. Thank you for the info. I learned something new, like increasing the amount of carb fron 50 to 65-75% of total calories a week before the event. Most people focus on carb loading the night before (8 -10 hrs).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most people I have spoken too does it a night before, but I thinks it’s a lot more sustainable if spread out especially if tapering to make sure your batteries are full to get the most out of your training and races 😁


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