If you want more freedom around food and energy during workouts then you have to reignite your friendship with CARBS!

Lets look at the facts first:

  • During steady state and high intensity activity your body relies on the glycogen (storage form of glucose we get from food) stored in the muscle and liver to use as energy.
  • Half of the energy from moderate intensity exercise and 2/3 the energy used during high intensity exercise comes from muscle glycogen and blood glucose.
  • Including carbohydrate rich foods at meals and snacks throughout the day replaces glycogen stores so your body has energy for the following workout

Not only does your muscle use glucose as energy but it also supports the function of your brain and central nervous system. Since it’s such an importance nutrient, if the body isn’t getting enough we can break down protein from the muscle to convert it to glucose.

It makes sense that if your glycogen stores are low from not eating enough carbs your body would send signals to you to replace this nutrient. I see people very worried that they’re low on a particular vitamin, hoping it will explain why they’re so tired by 3pm or have sugar cravings. Yes they’re low in a nutrient, and most often its carbs.

If you want more consistent energy throughout  the day and during workouts, make sure you’re consuming enough carbs. 

If you want to feel calm around things like donuts, chocolate, cake, chips, and fries you need to be eating more carbs throughout the day.  

If you want to be thinking about food less and free up some mental energy, give your brain enough carbs. 

There are 2 types of carbs, one type isn’t better than other, but it’s helpful to understand the differences between them especially if you’re active.

The first type is known as complex carbohydrates. They’re made up of long chains of glucose molecules which means they tend to be digested at a slower rate, sending glucose to the bloodstream more slowly. This means you might feel steady energy levels and can reduce fatigue later.

Most complex carbs contain fiber which is another reason they digest slower, but also come with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. They include foods like whole grains, veggies, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes. Complex carbs are great to include at meals and snacks that aren’t too close to a workout if you have a sensitive stomach. 

The second type of carbohydrates are called simple because they’re made up of 1 or 2 glucose molecules and broken down quickly. Because they’re digested so fast, if eaten alone, they’ll increase blood sugars and the drop in glucose can leave you feeling hungry sooner and/or more irritable.

They contain less fiber which is why they’re digested faster than complex carbs. This makes them great options right before, during, and immediately after exercise when we need immediate access to glucose as energy during activity and recover stores used after. 

You can enjoy simple carbs outside of exercise, you just might find improved satisfaction and less hunger later when you pair them with a protein, fat, and/or fiber.

We find simple carbs in fruit juice, fruit, baked goods, candy, dairy products, some sport drinks, chews, and gels.

Take a look at your current meals and snacks, are you avoiding or forgetting to add some carbs to them and if so experiment with bringing this food group back into your life. If you want more freedom around food and during workouts this is the first step, make friends with CARBS!


Christine Karpinski, Christine A. Rosenbloom (2018) Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals, 6th ed.



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