Carbohydrates and Exercise

Why are carbohydrates important?

  • They are your main muscle fuel during exercise
  • Your brain exclusively runs off carbohydrates e.g. glucose
  • They’re an important source of vitamins, minerals and nutrients such as fibre
  • They help to keep blood sugar levels (energy) stable
  • They help to keep us full
  • They’re an excellent source of fibre which fuels our healthy gut microbiota
  • Contrary to popular belief they aren’t bad for our health or waistlines. Wholegrain carbohydrates help us to maintain a healthy weight and reduce our risk of developing diseases such as type two diabetes and heart disease

What are the best types?

Carbohydrates are rated according to how fast they are broken down into sugar in the body and how fast they make our blood sugar levels rise. This is called the glycaemic index. Low GI carbohydrates give us a slow trickle of blood sugar. This is ideal as they keep us fuller for longer, give us a nice sustained release of energy and assist with weight management as they do not cause a hormone called insulin to sky rocket. High insulin levels can lead to weight gain around your mid-section.

High GI carbohydrates make blood sugar levels spike around thirty minutes after eating them and then a rapid fall. These spikes lead to high levels of insulin (fat storage hormone) being released and also lead to energy lows and increased appetite. High GI foods such as white bread, rice cakes, lollies and sports drinks are handy and ideal to consume during endurance events lasting 90mins of more as they provide the muscles with a quick source of energy but day to day it is best to minimise these foods.

Below is a list of some low to medium GI foods which are best to eat day to day

  • Bread: Sourdough, wholegrain, wholemeal, light rye, soy & linseed
  • Wraps: Goodness superfood barley wraps, wholegrain wraps, wholemeal wraps, freedom foods barley plus wraps
  • Biscuits: Vitaweats, ryvitas, shredded wheat biscuits
  • Pasta: All pasta is low GI, wholemeal pasta, brown rice pasta
  • Noodles: Rice noodles
  • Rice: Sunrice Doongara clever rice, basmati rice, brown rice, long grain rice
  • Quinoa
  • Cous cous
  • Cereal: Weet-bix, rolled oats, All bran, porridge
  • Muesli: Carman’s fruit free muesli, sunsol muesli, lowan’s muesli, natural muesli
  • Potato: Sweet potato, coles carisma potato
  • Sweet corn
  • Legumes e.g. chickpeas, beans, lentils
  • Milk and yoghurt e.g. chobani, danone yopro, Greek yoghurt

How much carbohydrate should I eat?

How much carbohydrate you should eat depends on lots of different factors including

  • What type of exercise you are engaging in e.g. running for 90mins vs 20min HIIT session
  • The intensity of your session e.g. light jog vs 45mins of running at close to your max pace
  • How long the session lasts e.g. 2hrs of bike riding vs 30mins of bike riding
  • How long is your recovery period between sessions? If it is less than 12-24hrs you may need to be more focused on consuming carbohydrate rich foods in between

Make sure to speak to book in and speak to one of our Sports Dietitians to get a personalised plan based on your goals and current exercise routine.

As a general rule of thumb, between 30-60g of carbohydrates for women is ideal in your post-workout meal or snack for women exercising for an hour or less once daily.

Between 60-80g of carbohydrate for men is ideal in your post-workout meal or snack for men exercising for an hour or less once daily. This would be equivalent to

For endurance athletes or exercise sessions lasting more than 60-90mins between1g/kg/bodyweight is ideal to consume in your post-workout meal e.g. 60g of carbohydrate for a 60kg woman who cycles for 90mins.

Carbohydrate counter

The foods roughly equate to 30g of carbohydrate:

  • 2 x slices bread
  • 1 x medium wrap
  • 3 x Weetabix
  • ½ cup muesli
  • 1 x cup flaked breakfast cereal
  • 4 x ryvitas
  • 1 x cup cooked quinoa
  • 125g cooked rice
  • 1 x small sweet potato
  • 1 x medium-large potato
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 cup chickpeas
  • 1 cup (150g) cooked pasta
  • 1 cup rice noodles
  • 2 x pieces fruit
  • 1 x cup grapes

Remember that consuming protein with carbohydrate helps replenish muscle stores faster so include some lean meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk, yoghurt or protein supplement with your meal or snack.

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