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Complex Carbohydrates and Athletic Performance

- by Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP

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Complex Carbohydrates and Athletic Performance

Eating enough complex carbohydrate foods is also important for enhancing athletic performance. Your muscles can absorb and store carbohydrate sugars. The carbohydrates provide some of the energy for physical activity. Regularly exercised muscles can store double the amount of carbohydrate sugar, giving you more strength and endurance.

When a muscle has depleted its reserve of carbohydrate sugars during exercise, it becomes fatigued and soon reaches the point of complete exhaustion. During exercise that requires prolonged endurance (jogging, cycling, swimming etc.), muscles extract carbohydrate sugars from the bloodstream at a rate of 30 to 40 times faster than during rest or light activity. Those sugars are drawn from the liver.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates keeps the supply of carbohydrate sugar stored in your liver and muscles high. This supply helps prevent your blood sugar levels from falling during exercise.

In marathon running, an empty carbohydrate fuel tank is known as "hitting the wall". Sometimes, at around the 20-mile mark of a 26.2-mile (42 km.) marathon, the runners may begin to slow down, becoming weak and dizzy. Often, they can only walk the last few miles, if they can continue at all. What has happened is that the muscles have exhausted their stores of carbohydrates, and the liver can no longer maintain normal blood sugar levels. The bran and nervous system, deprived of the energy that they need to function properly, may cause so much dizziness that the runner falls. Athletes in many sports can suffer from carbohydrate depletion.

Athletes refer to the intake of a diet rich in complex carbohydrate foods as carbo-loading. By getting regular exercise and eating sufficient carbohydrates you can expand your liver and muscle carbohydrate stores daily to provide you with a winning edge in your athletic pursuits. Carbo-loading will enhance both your endurance fitness level and your muscular strength.

Costill D.L., Hargreaves M. Carcohydrate Nutrition and Fatique. Sports Medicine, 1992 13;2:86

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Complex Carbohydrates and Athletic Performance

Dr. James Meschino, 


Global Integrative Medicine Academy

The Global Integrative Medicine Academy was created to satisfy a need, expressed by many health professionals, to establish credentials as experts in Nutritional Medicine. But, health professionals also needed to be able to complete the programme with a minimum impact on their career, family, and lifestyle. That is why the Advanced Nutritional Medicine and Sports Nutrition Certification Program was created.