SPECIAL REPORT: CARBOHYDRATES & PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE

 

Sugar is the body’s fuel! For athletes, there is no question of making a mistake with this essential food. For an average population, the consumption of carbohydrates should represent 55% of the total energy intake, keeping in mind the rule “not too much, not alone”. Indeed, a massive intake at the wrong time will result in the storage of excess fat rather than energy, while a reasoned intake at the right time will promote performance.

 

Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index (glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrins, etc.) are assimilated very quickly, they induce a rapid increase in the level of sugar in the blood, which causes a spike in insulin (hormone in reserve of energy).
Low glycemic index carbohydrates provide sustained energy over time (starch, fructose). The glycemic index therefore reflects the rate of absorption of carbohydrates in the blood. For example, when we talk about a glycemic index of about 20, that means that it is equivalent to 20% of that of pure glucose. That is to say, it is absorbed 5 times slower than it in the blood, allowing a gradual release of energy over time.

 

Carbohydrates are an important source of energy for the cells of the body. But, while the needs of the cells are continuous, the carbohydrate intake is discontinuous (after meals). The constitution of carbohydrate reserves, in the form of complex molecules (significant storage without creating water imbalances), therefore allows the body to have carbohydrates at all times. These carbohydrate stores are mainly in the form of glycogen.

 

In humans, glycogen is synthesized in liver cells and muscle cells. Only hepatic glycogen can then be redistributed to other cells in the body. Glycogen alone can represent 10% of the weight of the liver and 1% of the weight of the muscles.

 

In case of too much sugar intake from food, there is a second form of storage, much less limited in quantity, which is constituted by fats. These are mainly constituted by triglycerides, corresponding to 3 fatty acids linked to a glycerol. Of course, these reserves can be used to supply energy to the body’s cells when needed, for example in the event of long-term physical activity (running, cycling, swimming, etc.).

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CARBOHYDRATES AND PERFORMANCE

It is now clearly established that it is important for athletes to ingest carbohydrates when preparing for and / or participating in a sporting event 1. Scientists have shown the value of ingesting carbohydrates during sport. exercise 2 to improve endurance performance; the ingestion of carbohydrates during exercise to delay the onset of fatigue 3.

Like an engine, muscles need fuel. The energy we need comes from three main sources: carbohydrates, fats and proteins, with carbohydrates being the preferred fuel for muscles during intense and prolonged exertion.

The carbohydrate intake must be at least 100g per day, the recommended nutritional intake ranges from 125 to 175g per day which represents 50 to 55% of the total energy intake. At the qualitative level, two thirds of the intake must be in the form of complex sugars (starches, legumes, green vegetables, milk) and one third in the form of simple sugars (sweet products, confectionery, pastries, sweetened drinks).

BEFORE THE EFFORT

It is generally recommended to take a meal rich in complex carbohydrates of low or medium glycemic index such as pasta, rice (cooked “al dente” or whole), potatoes, eaten several days to several hours (5h to 3h ) before a competition, allow you to

“Full” of energy. It will be released gradually and will be essential during a long-term effort (effort requiring endurance).

DURING THE EFFORT

Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index such as glucose, maltose, dextrose, sucrose and maltodextrins, consumed regularly before and during exercise, are rapidly absorbed and make it possible to renew the glucose present in the body. This contribution makes it possible to “boost” the organism and to avoid any hypoglycemia, harmful for the performance.

AFTER THE EFFORT

Recovery is not a passive process: replacing lost carbohydrates is one of the most important things in helping the body recover. Consuming foods or fluids rich in carbohydrates immediately after a strenuous workout will help the muscles begin to recover, and benefit from the increased levels of glycogen stored by the body. As a general rule, the level of stored glycogen increases within 2 hours of exercise, giving the possibility of replenishing its stocks.

To optimize their effectiveness, it is recommended to combine different carbohydrate sources (eg: glucose + sucrose, glucose + fructose, glucose + sucrose + fructose or maltodextrin + fructose) in order to potentiate the rate of absorption of carbohydrates and therefore their use by the ‘organization.

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