on Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Carbohydrates are one of the most critical nutrient groups for any athlete, whether its in gymnastics or distance runners, swimmers or cyclists. All athletes tend to need a diet similar to the one USA Gymnastics recommended for gymnasts: high in carbs, moderate in proteins and low in fat. The balance of the 3 varies between sports and individual athletes but the general breakdown seems to the same.

So what's the big fuss about carbs? It seems while athletes are needing a large amount of them many of the new diets encourage an extremely low intake of carbs. Carbs fuel the nervous system functions, which is one of the reasons people tend to feel weak and light headed after skipping meals. In order to function properly the body needs a certain amount of carbs, and other nutrients, in order to function properly. Without the proper intake fatigue and muscle cramps can commonly occur.

Carbs are the critical sources of energy and are the most efficient source for glycogen, a muscle "fuel". While daily intake levels vary from athlete to athlete the intake amount should match the amount necessary for training and muscle recovery. All carbs however weren't created equally, some have very high or moderate glycemic indexes (such sugars, juices and breads.) Carbs with high glycemic indexes can easily be converted by the body into glucose and glycogen. The advantage here is they provide a quick recovery, however the downside is that it's very short lived.

On the other hand carbs which have low glycemic indexes, such as oat bran and whole wheats provide a slower increase in glucose and glycogen, causing in turn a smaller increase in insulin. These carbs are good for weight management, but not so much for muscle glycogen recovery.

Carbs are more critical in endurance sports than in gymnastics, though as you can see from the recommended percentages they still play a critical role in the athletes performance. Carbs are typically considered to be the fuel necessary for endurance sports, but sometimes the importance of carbs can be overdone and some athletes will overdo carb intake. While carbs are very important having a balanced diet including the proteins and fats is critical, particularly in endurance sports since the longer the distance is the more the importance of fats and proteins increases.
The one thing that seems to be consistently difficult is finding the right balance of the different dietary needs, it seems as though everywhere you turn I hear different things. The only thing that seems to consistently work is paying attention to what your body is craving and eating those foods.