Carbohydrates are the fuel of our body. Carbohydrates are present in pasta, brown bread, and bananas, but they also are the basis of sports nutrition. After carbohydrate intake, glucose is produced in our body. This glucose is sent through the blood to our muscles and liver, and is then transformed into glycogen; the ultimate fuel for our body. In other words, carbohydrates are our main source of energy. It is therefore essential for the active sports person to maintain sufficient glycogen levels.
High glycogen levels prevent fatigue, improve performance, and accelerate recovery. To enjoy optimal energy, carbohydrates must be taken before, during, and after the effort. It is important to know that it does not make sense to take carbohydrates in excess, because our body is limited in storing and processing them. Calories from carbohydrates that are not immediately processed are transformed into fat. A maximum intake of 60 to 66 g carbohydrates per hour is sufficient.
Note: In the event of a carbohydrate deficiency, or during less intensive exercises, fat burning will contribute to the energy supply. However, carbohydrates remain the most important source of energy.
Based on their chemical structure, carbohydrates (sugars) can be classified into three groups:
- Simple carbohydrates, or monosaccharides
- Double carbohydrates, or disaccharides
- Multiple carbohydrates, or polysaccharides
Depending on the structure of the abovementioned saccharides, the time of breakdown in our body differs. This is why we speak of slow, less fast, and fast sugars. Sports nutrition mainly consists of a mix of various sugars that provide optimal energy to the body. Practically, energy reserves must be resupplied after 45 minutes of sports activity. Fast sugars provide immediate energy boost, while less fast and slow sugars provide the necessary energy later.
Simple carbohydrates deliver energy faster, but they will also be converted into fat faster. Because of this fast conversion, the body does not have enough time to burn calories. Therefore, a balanced carbohydrate complex is extremely important for a continuous energy supply.