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Why do we need carbohydrates?

Why do we need carbohydrates?

A balanced diet made up of carbohydrates, proteins and fats is important for athletes. In my next few posts you will learn why, but today let’s talk about why we need carbohydrates!

Carbohydrates are an important source of fuel and energy for our bodies. Our bodies need carbohydrates just like a car needs gas. If we do not consume enough carbohydrates, we will not have enough energy and our performance will suffer. Have you ever noticed that what you eat before soccer games and practices impacts your energy levels and how you play?

Carbohydrates are broken down by our bodies into the sugar glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for our bodies and glycogen is the storage form of glucose. When we eat carbohydrates our bodies store the glucose we are not currently using as glycogen. As our blood sugar levels fall, the glycogen releases more glucose into our blood to help keep our energy levels up. If we do not consume enough calories and carbohydrates before we play, our glycogen levels will deplete and as a result we will not have enough energy and our performance will suffer. 

Some sources of carbohydrates to choose include bread (white and whole wheat), rice, faro, quinoa, fresh fruit and dried fruit (bananas, apples, peaches, mangos), raisins, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, chocolate milk, sports drinks, beans, pasta, waffles, crackers and graham crackers. Cake, donuts and croissants are also carbohydrates, but I do not recommend eating them before a game. This is because they sit heavy in your stomach, can leave you with stomach cramps and won’t give you the lasting energy you need before you play.

I recommend choosing whole grains such as whole wheat bread, oats and brown rice most of the time since whole grains provide more vitamins, minerals and fiber than refined, simple carbohydrates. However, as it gets closer to game time (think 30-60 minutes before practice or game time), simple carbohydrates such as pretzels can be beneficial since simple carbohydrates digest quicker and won’t sit heavy in your stomach. 

Try to have meals ~3 hours before your soccer game to avoid an upset stomach. A sample pre game meal would be whole wheat bread with grilled chicken, ¼ of an avocado, lettuce and tomato, with a piece of fruit and water to drink. 

Look for my next post about why we need protein!


Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Dietitian with a private practice on Long Island.  Her practice, LNZ Nutrition, LLC specializes in sports nutrition, weight management and food allergies. Linzy has worked with intramural to elite athletes to help them maximize their performance through diet. Follow her blog https://lnznutrition.com/blog-media/ and instagram page LNZnutrition for more nutrition tips and product finds, and visit her website LNZnutrition.com to learn more about her and her services.

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