Best Sources of Carbohydrates for an Athlete

Best Sources of Carbohydrates for an Athlete

Best source of carbohydrates for athletes

As an athlete you have additional nutritional requirements that need to be met. Carbohydrates for fueling workouts and building glycogen stores are one example. But what are the best sources of carbohydrates for an athlete?  You have many choices on how to fuel your body, and in my perspective a holistic whole foods approach is your best bet. This of course is not a must, but if you want to improve your performance and recovery, while at the same time reduce your injury and inflammation- follow this advice.

A young athlete may be able to get away with eating/drinking poor quality foods, but as we age our food choices become detrimental. But even a young athlete would benefit from improving his or her food choices.

Higher Nutritional Needs

But before I dive into the best carbohydrate sources for an athlete, I would like to mention that there are other special needs that will be covered in my other blog posts. Here are the other needs that should be met in order to achieve better performance and recovery.

  • Protein for building and repairing muscle
  • Carbohydrates for fueling workouts and building glycogen stores
  • Extra water and electrolytes to replenish what is lost during the workouts
  • Anti-oxidant for combating oxidative stress
  • Alkalinizing foods to maintain a healthy pH balance
  • Rest and sleep to recover and build

So what are the best sources of carbohydrate for an athlete?

There is a lot of talk out there about avoiding gluten.  I support that to some degree. So many people are sensitive to gluten and they don’t even know it.  That said, it you are going to avoid gluten you should know that just because a product is gluten free does not make it healthy.  Make sure you choose nutrient dense sources of carbs, like sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, carrots and beets.

I always tell my clients – a cookie is a cookie is a cookie! I don’t care if it is organic, vegan, Paleo, or gluten free. If it is loaded with refined carbohydrates or even “healthy” sugars, it does not qualify as a good source of carbs. Of course moderation is key, and you can’t live your life with no fun at all, right?  But indulging on organic vegan desserts is not health promoting.

OK, so what are good sources or carbs? My preference is for whole, unrefined, unadulterated non-glutinous grains. If you are eating grains then choose grains that are least refined. For example organic whole oat grouts are less refined than organic steel cut oats, which are less refined than organic rolled oats, which are less refined than instant oats.  You get the picture?  Grains also do not come in little pillow shapes, nor do they naturally grow in flakes and clusters. So any cereal grain that has those shapes is refined and highly processed.

If you are going to eat gluten than choose soaked, sprouted, organic, 100% whole grain (not whole wheat). Soaking and sprouting the grains removes some of the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors that make them harder to digest.   And there is a difference between whole wheat bread, and whole grain bread. Whole grain breads contain the endosperms, germ and bran, while whole wheat contains the endosperm alone and ½ the nutrients than whole grain.

Low glycemic root and starchy vegetables are one of the best sources of carbohydrates. For athletes who are following a Paleo diet or for individuals who are not eating grains these are the best sources in addition to colorful veggies and fruits.  But truthfully; these are the best choice for anyone as they are so rich in nutrients.

Legumes, nuts and seeds also provide carbohydrates. Those are also a good source of vegetarian protein, while nuts and sees also provide beneficial fats.

Last but not least: Colorful, fresh vegetables & fruits. This is really the most important category, as it also helps with antioxidants and alkalinizing the body.  I like to tell my clients to Eat the Rainbow Every Day!

Why are these better for me?

These provide both immediate and time released energy source as they are easily digested and metabolized. In addition, foods that are lower on the glycemic index have an important role toward improving blood sugar stability. As an athlete you do however, require higher glycemic foods at specific times (more about that in another blog).

It is imperative that an athlete consume at least 5 servings a day of alkalinizing vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit to maintain healthy pH balance.  I tell my clients who are under 50 to consume 10 servings of veggies and fruit per day. 6-8 servings of veggies and 2-4 servings of fruit will work. For those of us who are over 50 aim for 14 servings!  When you train hard your body is prone to blood acidosis due to the by-products of exercise. It is imperative you counter that acidity with veggies and fruit. You see what happens is that your blood pH needs to stay at a constant level. The availability of minerals determines that.  We get minerals from veggies and fruit that come to us via the soil they grew in.  If we eat acidifying foods (like grains and proteins) and don’t at veggies we won’t have minerals.  Well, we do have minerals available in the body like our bones and teeth…and the body will demineralize those stores if we do not supply it with minerals through veggies.

Many people do not understand that green veggies are a carbohydrate. As they are not a fat or a protein they are a carb. Sugar, fiber and starch make up carbs in different combinations.  Green leafy veggies are mostly fiber and a small amount of sugar.

Why should I avoid refined carbs?

Heavy consumption of refined carbs like bread, cookies and pasta leads to difficulties with blood sugar regulation and is pro-inflammatory.  High consumption of grains and sugar is also acidifying. White sugars and in particular High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) should be avoided. HFCS is linked to insulin resistance.  Those with insulin resistance convert carbohydrates into triglycerides as fat. Subjects with normal insulin sensitivity convert carbohydrates to liver and muscle glycogen.  As an athlete, therefore, it is very important to avoid HFCS

If you would like to talk to me about your specific training and nutritional needs, contact me at



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