Carbohydrates + Exercise

By Leah Baker, RD of Nourished Routes, LLC

Many Americans today are aware of the health benefits associated with proper nutrition and regular exercise. Personal training and group fitness classes are great resources to help one to stay accountable to a physically active lifestyle; however, the use of carbohydrates for exercise is a concept that is commonly misunderstood without some kind of sports nutrition education. 

Carbohydrates are critical for optimal performance in exercise, and should be used for overall health in the average exercise routine as well as the athlete. 

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source, and are used at an increased rate with exertion. For example, muscle tissue can increase glucose uptake by 30-fold in some workouts. When paired with a poor diet, one can apply a mere percentage of their physical abilities in their HIIT or Barre classes. 

Consuming carbohydrates in the appropriate forms and amounts, before, during, and after exercise will not only enhance your results, but you will feel the difference when you experience what it feels like to properly fuel your body! These tips also shorten muscle recovery time and prevent muscle fatigue.

Intake recommendations are dependent on training goals, desired outcomes, and intensity levels. For example, individuals following moderate-intensity training programs (60 min/day) should consume a total of 5-7g/kg carbohydrates daily. This should be spread throughout the day, and include carbohydrate intake before, during, and after exercise. Consume 1-3g/kg of easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as a granola bar or a serving of fruit, 1-3 hours prior to exercise. Only a small amount of carbohydrate or carbohydrate mouth rinse– providing single or multiple transportable carbohydrates only, are recommended during this regimen’s intensity level. Post workout, consume 1-1.2g/kg complex carbohydrates, such as whole-wheat or quinoa, for the first four hours following.

Sports nutrition is not only appropriate for performance, but for personal goals such as weight loss or altered body composition. Wrestlers, or individuals that cut weight quickly, desire to compete at certain weight classes. If done inappropriately, cutting calories and carbohydrates while exercising at high intensity levels, they can incidentally hurt their performance or cause muscle damage, effecting muscle contraction or worse. 

Refer to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americanspublished by the Department of Health and Human Services and Nourished Routes, LLC for sports nutrition guidelines, published by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Nourished Routes aims to enrich your lifestyle with useful experience and education. When it comes to providing nutrition therapy, we believe in a whole foods approach, 100% transparency with our clients, and applying evidenced-based information. Our Registered Dietitians create individualized nutrition and activity plans that are personalized to your lifestyle and needs. Some of our nutrition services include: nutrition counseling, meal prep, corporate wellness workshops, and much more. Check out our website at for more information.