What Fuels YOU?

10.17.2013_What-fuels-you What do all of these situations have in common? They all require energy to be performed, and just like a car gas fuel to perform; your body needs fuel to perform all of these activities. The main nutrient that provides energy for our bodies, especially during physical activity, are carbohydrates. In fact, our brains almost exclusively use carbohydrates for energy (yes – thinking does require energy). Carbohydrates are a group of compounds including sugars, starches and fibres (our bodies don’t use fibre for energy, but they are still important for good health).

Carbohydrate recommendations for athletes range from 6-10 grams per kilogram (2.7-4.5 g/lb) body weight per day, depending on daily energy expenditure, type of sport, sex, and environmental conditions. Youth athletes may need even more to support energy needs for growth.

Type Example Carbohydrates/serving
Sugars Table sugar, honey, maple syrup ~ 5 grams per teaspoon
Fruit and fruit juices ~ 15 grams per ½ cup
Starches Root vegetables such as potatoes, yams and squash ~ 25 grams per ½ cup
Bread ~ 25 grams per slice
Grains such as rice, oatmeal, barley, quinoa 15-20 grams per ½ cup
Pasta ~ 25 grams per ½ cup
Legumes Kidney beans, chick peas, lentils ~ 22 grams per ½ cup
Dairy Milk 12 grams per 1 cup

When considering your carbohydrate intake for sport performance, there are two important factors to keep in mind – timing and type. Timing refers to pre-, during and post-exercise and type refers to the glycemic index of the carbohydrates. Glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate containing food raises blood sugar levels after consumption. High glycemic foods raise blood sugar levels quickly and include foods like most fruit, sugars and processed grains like white bread and white rice. Low glycemic foods raise blood sugar levels at a slower rate and include high fibre carbohydrates such as vegetables, legumes and some whole grains. Medium glycemic foods are somewhere in the middle and include whole grain bread and pasta, starchy vegetables and some fruit.

Immediately before exercise, focus on medium to high glycemic carbohydrates, which are digested more quickly and will help to top up your energy stores.

During exercise, focus on water for the first 30-60 minutes of activity, and add high glycemic carbohydrates, such as those found in sport beverages and gels, for activities lasting longer than 30-60 minutes.

Immediately after exercise is the prime refuelling time. Your muscles essentially act as a sponge to soak up nutrients in your blood to help repair tissues and replenish your glycogen stores for your next activity. Within the first 60 minutes after activity, focus on high to medium glycemic carbohydrates.

The remainder of the day consume medium to low glycemic carbohydrates at meals and snacks. Make sure to balance these meals with proteins and healthy fats as well.

Though carbohydrates are our bodies’ main source of energy, we also need to consume B vitamins to help our bodies make use of the carbohydrates that we eat. The B vitamins include riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, folate, B6 and B12 and are cofactors in the enzymes that convert carbohydrates to energy. Good sources of B vitamins include fortified and whole grains (particularly the germ of grains), spinach, dairy products like milk and yogurt, mushrooms and meat products.

Here is an example of typical day for a typical 13 year old, 100 lb athlete.

Timing Meal Carbohydrates
  • 3/4 cup whole grain granola
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup sliced fruit
62 grams
  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 75 grams turkey
  • 1 slice cheese
  • Sliced lettuce & tomato
  • Apple
70 grams
Pre-skate snack
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup Cheerios
  • 1 cup milk
64 grams
During Skate
  • 500 mL sport beverage
24 grams
Immediately Post-skate
  • 250 mL chocolate milk
26 grams
  • 1 medium baked sweet potato
  • 75 grams chicken
  • 1 cup Mixed greens salad
  • 1 cup Steamed green beans
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt
76 grams
TOTAL 322 grams










Canadian Diabetes Association. The Glycemic Index. [Cited September 24, 2013]
Dietitians of Canada. B-vitamins. [Cited September 24, 2013]
Dietitians of Canada. Position Pater on Nutrition and Athletic Performance. [Cited September 24, 2013]
Holway FE, Spriet LL. Sport-specific nutrition: Practical strategies for team sports. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2011;29(sup1):S115-S125.
Montfort-Steiger V, Williams CA. Carbohydrate intake considerations for young athletes. J Sports Sci Med. 2007;6:343-352.

About The Author

Lisa’s passion for yummy, healthy foods began at a young age and cultivated with the influence of her uber-health conscious mother, bake-master grandmother, and Italian food extraordinaire nonna. After initially starting a degree in biochemistry and genetics, Lisa completed a BSc Honours degree in Nutrition and Nutraceutical sciences from the University of Guelph as well as a BSc Honours degree in Food and Nutrition from Brescia University College, and has graduated from their MSc Foods & Nutrition program, where she also completed her registered dietitian internship. CONTINUE.

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