Carbohydrates for athletes

They don't have the best image these days: the Carbohydrates. However, they are indispensable for many athletes as quick energy suppliers. So even in times of low carb and LOGI, they are not completely obsolete. What role do carbohydrates play for Sportsman and how they fit into a sports diet is shown in the following portrait.



The biology of carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are molecules consisting exclusively of the elements carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. They form a very diverse group of macronutrients, which is defined by the fact that the molecules have at least two hydroxyl groups and one aldehyde or keto group.carbohydrates are built up from so-called monosaccharides or simple sugars. Any higher-order carbohydrate can be broken down into these monosaccharides. Depending on the number of linked monosaccharides, one speaks of di-, oligo- or polysaccharides.

The digestion of carbohydrates

The digestion of carbohydrates already begins in the mouth. The enzyme alpha-amylase breaks down the complex chains of carbohydrates. If you chew bread long enough, for example, it will taste sweet after a while.

If the food pulp then reaches the stomach, this enzyme is inactivated by the hydrochloric acid there. No further digestion of the carbohydrates takes place in the stomach itself.

This is not driven forward until the small intestine, where enzymes, this time from the pancreas, are again added to the food pulp. Here, all di-, oligo and polysaccharides that are still present and can be cleaved are broken down into monosaccharides. Only in this form can they be absorbed into the blood via the intestinal mucosa of the small intestine.

The speed of absorption depends on the type of monosaccharide. Glucose, for example, is absorbed before fructose. The composition of the food containing the carbohydrates also plays a role in absorption. Fatty meals, for example, remain longer in the stomach. This means that carbohydrates also enter the intestine later and can be absorbed correspondingly later. High-fibre meals also take longer for their monosaccharides to reach the blood.

Finally, the blood distributes the monosaccharides throughout the body, where they are fed to their various purposes. However, since the human organism can only utilize glucose, other types of sugar such as galactose and fructose must first be converted into glucose by the liver

Carbohydrates in our food

The most important monosaccharides for humans are glucose and fructose. These and other monosaccharides are highly soluble in water and are therefore also suitable as additives for quick energy in drinks. Of all the sugar forms, they are also the sweetest.

A typical disaccharide is sucrose, better known as household sugar. It is formed from one molecule of fructose and one molecule of glucose. In contrast, maltose or malt sugar is formed from two glucose molecules. A disaccharide of milk, lactose, has become known more for its tolerance problems. Also of interest to athletes is a rather unknown disaccharide: trehalose. In contrast to other Carbohydrates it is only broken down in the small intestine and therefore causes only a moderate rise in blood sugar. This group of carbohydrates is also still readily soluble in water.

If a carbohydrate consists of three to ten monosaccharides, they are called oligosaccharides. They are usually less sweet and cannot always be completely broken down by the human digestive tract. They are therefore frequent causes of flatulence, as the undigested parts are utilised by bacteria in the large intestine. Raffinose, for example, is one of the oligosaccharides.

Finally, polysaccharides are carbohydrates that are made up of eleven or more monosaccharides. They are often found in foodstuffs as scaffolding substances or as storage substances of plants. The often insoluble molecules are no longer sweet. They are mainly found in plants, such as starch, xanthan, pectin, inulin and cellulose. With glycogen, however, animals including humans can also form complex carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates and their importance for the body

Carbohydrates are essential for our organism. Without glucose as fuel for the brain and some other organs, we could not survive. If the body is deprived of this group of nutrients, it synthesizes them from its own stores.

However, carbohydrates are important for all systems as a source of energy. Per gram they provide 4.1 kcal or 17 kJ of energy. What is not immediately consumed can be used to build up the liver's glycogen store. When this is full, the body stores the energy in the form of depot fats.

Since they are easier to break down than protein, carbohydrates also protect muscle mass from unwanted breakdown. As long as the body can help itself to this simple source of energy, there is no reason for it to attack its own substance. Thus, carbohydrates play an essential role in maintaining and building muscle in athletes.

In the form of dietary fiber, they are also indispensable for healthy digestion. Due to their volume, they stimulate intestinal activity and thus protect against constipation. In the long term, they also help prevent health problems such as obesity, gallstones or even cancer.

Less known, but no less important is the role of carbohydrates as a building material. They are involved in the formation of cartilage and ligaments, form the connective tissue together with other substances and much more.

In addition, they support a balanced electrolyte and water balance, participate in immune reactions, in coagulation and even in cell division and heredity. The AB0 blood group system is also based on carbohydrates.

The daily carbohydrate requirement

Following the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society (DGE), at least 50% of our daily calories should come from carbohydrates. Since not everyone likes to calculate with calories, some rules of thumb have also been established. One of them says, about 5 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight and day should be. For a woman weighing 70 kg, that would be about 350 g of carbohydrates per day. What sounds like a lot is quickly put into perspective when you consider that the brain alone needs about 140 g to function.

However, only usable carbohydrates are counted in the calculation. Dietary fibre is not taken into account.

Ideally, a large part of the usable carbohydrates belong to the polysaccharides. These complex carbohydrates are broken down gradually and arrive in the blood in a correspondingly distributed time. This prevents blood sugar peaks with the corresponding insulin response. In addition, complex carbohydrates keep you full longer and thus help you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

At the same time, long-chain carbohydrates usually also bring more healthy accompanying substances such as Vitamins and minerals with. Due to the higher nutrient density, athletes can also cover their increased needs.

Carbohydrate deficiency

The Western diet is usually rich in carbohydrates. However, since low carb has conquered the diet and nutrition world, it makes sense to take a look at deficiency symptoms, because not everyone can tolerate an (extremely) low-carbohydrate diet. If carbohydrates are missing, it can lead to impairments like these:

  • Performance weakness
  • Fatigue and Fatigue
  • Concentration problems
  • Nausea
  • muscle wasting

At a certain point, the body begins to correct the deficiency through its own synthesis. Ketone bodies are formed in the process. These are accompanied by the typical, unpleasant bad breath. Athletes who have already done a low-carbohydrate or even ketogenic diet, this should be very familiar.

Furthermore, the lower the proportion of carbohydrates in the diet, the greater the likelihood of deficiencies in other substances, since it is precisely complex carbohydrates of Vitamins and minerals are accompanied.

Carbohydrate surplus

Where a suitable amount ends and an excess begins varies for carbohydrates from person to person. However, a surplus quickly becomes quite obvious - especially if the majority of carbohydrates consumed are short-chain. The consequence is called overweight.

A general excess of even complex carbohydrates may occur primarily in people whose metabolism generally does better with moderate amounts of the nutrient.

carbohydrate deficiency

We speak of a carbohydrate deficiency when the quantity is correct, but not the composition. Sugar is the buzzword here. It tempts many people to eat more than they need - because it is so delicious. In addition, the feeling of satiety does not last nearly as long as with complex carbohydrates.

As a result, people consume significantly more calories. Obesity is therefore a frequent consequence of the wrong supply.
Also with an exclusive consumption of white flour can be spoken of an incorrect supply, since this clearly less healthy accompanying materials such as ballast materials, vitamine and mineral materials bring along, as this for example with wholemeal the case would be.

Carbohydrates - Supplements for sports nutrition

Sports nutrition supplements can optimize carbohydrate management in a variety of ways.

Maltodextrin, Oats and Isodrinks

If you want immediate energy for your workout, supplements with carbohydrates are the right choice. They give the body energy faster than the own fat reserves. So if you are looking for a quick energy boost, these supplements are exactly the right thing.
Many products are formulated in such a way that the energy sources do not dissipate after just a few minutes, but are gradually released into the blood. In this way, they ensure the energy supply over a longer period of time.

weight gainer

Also weight gainer usually contain a prominent carbohydrate component. On the one hand, this is to replenish the carbohydrate reserves. On the other hand, the carbohydrates serve to protect the muscles. If the body has enough energy via the saccharides, it does not attack the muscle mass. The build-up therefore does not have to compensate for a loss and thus turns out larger with the same training stimulus.

Low Carb, Carbblocker and Co.

While some supplements are about supplying the body with the right carbohydrates at the right time, others aim to reduce the amount of carbohydrates consumed as much as possible.

low carb Supplements reduce the amount of ingested carbohydrates from the outset because they contain few. The focus of these supplements is often on Proteins.
Carbblockers, on the other hand, are designed to inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates from food in the intestines, thus reducing the amount that actually reaches the body.

This type of dietary supplement is particularly good at supporting diets for weight loss or definition.