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Let's Talk About the Elephant In The Room

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN

Carbs, oh carbs. This specific nutrient has been given a horrible reputation over the past couple years, and for no good reason!

Carbs are the preferred energy source for our working muscles (especially at high intensity), for our brain, and for exercise lasting longer than 45 minutes.

I promise, carbs are not the bad guys!

The extreme thinking of “good” and “bad” foods and labeling entire food groups “off limits” is problematic here. This is especially true in an active population. Women and men both need carbohydrates for functionality of normal body functions. As you add in the exercise component, carbohydrates become increasingly important. Women are more sensitive to restriction at large due to the nature of hormones, but women continue to restrict (thanks diet culture).

Let’s shift gears here and befriend these lovely carbohydrates-- both males and females. Here is why:

  • Carbohydrates provide your brain with the nutrition you need to have mental clarity + focus.

  • The neuropeptide, kisspeptin, is significantly reduced without adequate carbohydrate (as well as calorie restriction). Kisspeptin is responsible for sex hormones and endocrine and reproductive function. It also plays a role in maintaining blood sugar levels, appetite regulation, and body composition.

  • Carbs help maintain a healthy immune system.

  • Carbs allow for training adaptation and improve the stress response to exercise. This decreases your risk for developing iron deficiency anemia.

  • Carbs provide you with prebiotic fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory nutrients + phytonutrients.

  • Carbs give your muscles fuel for the energy to do work + to recover from exercise demands.

Restricting an entire food group, in this case carbohydrates, does more harm than good. I mean, look at all of those benefits!

If you are still not convinced about adding carbohydrates into your nutrition, start by fueling with carbs be

fore and after your workouts. This is what I like to call sandwiching your workout with carbohydrates. Your muscles are hungry here and will readily use those carbs for your exercise and for recovery.

Here are some carbohydrate recommendations based on exercise duration and intensity:

  • For a light or active recovery day, aim for 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.

  • For short intense days (intervals, crossfit/ HIIT), aim for 2.5 to 3 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight.

  • For moderate- to high-intensity training lasting 1 to 2 hours, you need 3 to 3.5 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight.

  • For endurance training involving 2 to 5 hours of intense training per day (distance running, cycling, swimming), you need 4.5 to 6 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight.

  • For extreme intense training of 5+ hours (Ironman, ultra endurance, or multisport events), you need 6 to 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight.

A POWERFUL athlete is a well-fueled athlete! Start to fuel yourself and optimize your performance and recovery.

** 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds

For example, 150 lb athlete to kilograms:

150lbs / 2.2 = 68.18 kilogram

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