Carbohydrates: the nutritional enigma. Some diets avoid them like the plague but for athletes, they are critical. Let’s get the basics down so you can be sure to fuel your athlete right.
Carbohydrates = Fuel
Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source. Yes, the body can burn fat for energy when carbohydrates are depleted, but for young athletes, we’ll put that aside. Carbs are broken down by the body into simple sugars to be used as energy. While all carbs meet a simple-sugar-fate in the bloodstream, how the body breaks them down makes all the difference.
Your goal is to keep your athlete’s blood sugar level steady and consistent so they can perform at their best without peaks and valleys.
There are two categories of carbohydrates that are critical to distinguish between. Simple carbs are already in the form of sugar, and therefore your body can break them down very quickly. You get a quick burst of energy followed by an insulin response; insulin is like the body’s blood sugar police. The downside is you'll often experience a "crash" (moody, lethargic, hungry) shortly after eating simple carbs. Examples of simple carbs include fruits, syrups, table sugar, and candy.
Complex carbs, on the other hand, need to be broken down further by the body, which takes time. Because of this, sugar is released into the blood stream over a longer duration, providing more sustained energy. Examples of complex carbs include whole grain breads, vegetables, potatoes.