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Carbohydrates: You Could Have Been Getting It All Wrong Up Until Now!

Carbohydrates: You Could Have Been Getting It All Wrong Up Until Now!

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles, every day our carbohydrates must be re-stocked as our bodies can only store a limited supply (around 500g). Approximately 100g of this supply is stored in the liver, and up to 400g in the muscle cells. The purpose of glycogen being stored in the liver is so that we can maintain steady blood sugar levels should they drop for any reason.

The purpose of glycogen in the muscles is to fuel physical activity. Serious athletes should be consuming between 7-12g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight each day to ensure adequate glycogen stores. Exercising on an empty stomach will seriously hinder your endurance.

Before a match, you should include 1-4g carbohydrate per kg bodyweight which will be enough to see you through to half time. However, whenever you get the chance throughout the match (especially at half time) you should consume 30-60g of carbohydrate to maintain your blood glucose level.

Pre-match meal suggestions for sustained energy (2-4 hours before):

  • Sandwich/roll/bagel with chicken/cheese/egg/peanut butter
  • Jacket potato with beans/cheese/tuna/chicken
  • Pasta with tomato pasta sauce/cheese/vegetables
  • Chicken, rice, salad
  • Porridge with milk
  • Wholegrain cereal
  • Noodles

Pre-match snack suggestions (1-2 hours before):

  • Fresh fruit
  • Dried apricots
  • Smoothie
  • Yoghurt
  • Energy/nutrition bar
  • Cereal bar/ flapjack
  • Toast with honey or jam
  • Porridge
  • Wholegrain cereal with milk

During match nutrition:

  • Isotonic sports drink
  • Energy bar
  • Diluted fruit juice
  • Raisins
  • Energy gel
  • Banana 

To promote rapid recovery post training/match, within 30 minutes of exercise you should be consuming 1-1.5g carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight, with this being repeated at 2 hour intervals up to 6 hours’ post exercise. You should be focusing on consuming a mixture of high GI and low GI foods, with the high GI foods making up more of the portion. High GI foods will increase glycogen replenishment during the initial phase post exercise.

This is particularly important if you plan to train/play again within the next 8 hours, this is a vital window of opportunity to refuel your muscle glycogen stores when glycogen up take is at its most efficient. The more depleted your glycogen stores, the longer it will take you to refuel. Complete glycogen replenishment could take as long as 7-10 days if muscle damage has occurred during the match as this delays the rate of storage.

Post-match meal suggestions:

  • 500ml flavoured milk
  • Cereal bar
  • Banana
  • Wholemeal tuna sandwich
  • Recovery shake
  • Beans on toast
  • Weetabix
  • Jacket potato
  • Pasta with chicken

Milk is a near perfect recovery drink. It offers nutrients, glycogen and muscle replenishment and rehydration. Drinking milk post exercise has also been shown to reduce fat levels and increase lean mass and strength thanks to peptides that are released when milk is digested.

If you have a recovery period available of 24 hours or more, the initial glycogen replenishment window is less critical although you should be consistently refuelling for the next day using nutrient dense food sources. 

Top tips:

  • The more acidic the fruit the lower the GI: Apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, peaches, apricots, plums
  • Most vegetables have very low carbohydrate content, with the exception of potatoes
  • To optimise glycogen uptake and minimise fat storage eat little and often

It takes a beginner longer to replenish glycogen stores than an experienced athlete even after eating the same amount. This is why elite players are able to train every single day – they have an increased glycogen storage capacity by as much as 20%!

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