Sports nutrition: the importance of a high carb diet
Physically active people need to eat a balanced diet high in carbohydrates to give their bodies sufficient energy for their sports.

The low-carb, high-fat diet craze may be beginning to wane, but such diets, under various names, still remain popular. You may know someone who has lost weight on such a diet. Nutrition experts, however, have always been skeptical of such diets, which tend to be high in meat rather than plant foods, and the long-term consequences remain unknown. While everyone should approach low-carb diets with caution, people who are physically active have an even greater need for a balanced diet high in carbohydrates.

For general diet, experts recommend the same guidelines for athletes as for non-competitors: a diet low in fat (no more than thirty percent of calories from fat) and high in plant foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Twelve to fifteen percent of calories should come from lean protein sources. Low-carb diets typically require that breads and fruits be restricted, leaving out these two important segments of diet. Athletes will generally burn more calories than non-athletes, and thus may consume more calories, but consuming more calories does not mean eating more of just anything- it means higher nutrient requirements, and meeting nutrient requirements while limiting fruit and grain intake is extremely difficult.

Low-carb diets do tend to be high in protein, and itís true that athletes have higher protein requirements. However, low-carb dieters often get that extra protein from meats and cheeses that are high in fat. Moreover, a typical American diet provides plenty of protein even for an athleteís higher needs. Sports nutrition does not require a high consumption of meat.

In addition, consuming a diet low in carbohydrates will have greater consequences for an athlete than for a sedentary individual. The human body is designed to draw upon carbohydrates as its major source of fuel, and athletes need a great deal of fuel. High-carbohydrate foods eaten a few hours before exercising help prepare the body for exertion, and when the bodyís glycogen resources have been depleted by exercise, eating a high-carbohydrate snack right away is essential to helping it recover. If you exercise for longer than an hour and a half, youíll want to take in replacement carbohydrates while you exercise to keep energy levels up. On a daily basis, eating a diet high in healthy carbohydrates and low in fat, especially saturated fats, will help keep your energy high.

The importance of eating a high-carb diet is highlighted by the problems that a low-carb, high-protein diet presents on the day of competition. Your body takes considerably longer to digest proteins and fats than it does to digest carbohydrates. Your goal in beginning a competition is to have a fairly empty stomach and upper bowel, but high levels of energy. Eating a meal high in protein on the day of competition can result in your still having food in your stomach and suffering possible digestion problems, but not having a sufficient level of energy. High levels of fat in a pre-competition meal will cause similar problems.

Just as itís important to select the right fuel source- carbohydrates- for exercise, itís important to ingest the right kind of carbohydrates. Dietary recommendations center on whole grain sources of carbohydrates to ensure that individuals consume enough fiber. But while athletes need to consume more carbohydrates than non-athletes, they do not need to consume additional fiber, which can lead to digestion problems on the day of competition. As competition approaches, athletes should consume a mixture of carbohydrate sources, some which are high in fiber and some, like white rice and potatoes with the skin off, that are not, to ensure that they receive enough fiber but do not consume a problematic amount.