About Carbohydrates

Many athletes and parents are often faced with many different messages around nutrition from the media, and peers and other health professionals. One of the main areas that I often get questions about is related to Carbohydrates. Some of the questions that I receive include:

1. What are carbohydrates?
2. Where do carbohydrates come from?
3. Do carbohydrates cause weight gain?
4. How do I know that I am getting enough in my day to day diet?

Here are my responses:
1. Carbohydrates come in a variety of different forms, help from very small (monosaccarides), to medium (disaccharides) to large (polysaccharides). These structures are all composed of three different types of elements – carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Each of these impacts our bodies in a slightly different way and are recommended in different amounts. The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy to our brains, red blood cells and during moderate to high intensity physical activity.

2. Carbohydrates come from many different types of food and are virtually impossible to avoid – and you shouldn’t! Fruit, vegetables, grain products and milk and alternatives, treat foods (candy, chips, ice cream and pop).

3. Carbohydrates do not cause weight gain! It is absolutely not recommended, especially as an athlete, to try to limit carbohydrate consumption. If this is done performance will be affected as will your mental status on your ability and skill.

4. The best way to know if you are getting enough carbohydrates is to meet with a qualified registered dietitian who will do an individualized assessment of your intake, training schedule and requirements. If this is not possible, then using Canada’s Food Guide as your base will give you a good idea. It is absolutely imperative to ensure that the minimum requirements from each food group are met and depending on the level of training and individual requirements more could be required.

Some great sources of carbohydrates include the following:
– Whole grain bread
– Whole wheat pasta
– Brown rice
– Quinoa
– Whole Wheat Couscous
– Oatmeal a real (not instant)
– Cream of wheat
– Muslix and granola cereals
– Whole grain bagels
– Whole wheat English Muffins
– Multigrain crackers
– Fruit â all types
– Vegetables â all types
– Low fat milk â both chocolate and white
– 1-2% Milk Fat Yogurts

Happy Eating!
Yours in Health,

Kelly Heffernan
Registered Dietitian