Carbohydrates and Fatigue

Carbohydrate is a key fuel source for continuous or high-intensity exercise such as tennis.

Published January 30, 2014 12:00

Carbohydrates and Fatigue
Nutrient dense carbohydrate rich foods athletes should be eating include breads, cereals and pasta.

Carbohydrate is a key fuel source for continuous or high-intensity exercise such as tennis. The body stores carbohydrate as glycogen in the muscles and liver, however its storage capacity is limited.

When these carbohydrate stores are inadequate to meet the fuel needs of an athlete's training and competition program, the results include fatigue (staleness), reduced ability to concentrate, decreased speed of movement and a reduction in immune system function.

Carbohydrate requirements are dependent on the fuel needs of the athlete's training and competition program, with parameters including the frequency, duration and intensity of the activity. Since activity levels change from day to day, carbohydrate intake should fluctuate to reflect this.

• Low intensity or skill based activities athletes require 3-5g/kg/day
• Moderate-high intensity sessions of 2-4 hours in length the requirements are 6-10g/kg/day
• Sessions >5 hours per day the needs increase to 8-12g/kg/day

Recently, many athletes have followed the trends of gluten free and Paleolithic eating practices. There is no doubt that people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease must exclude gluten from their diet to decrease the risk of gastro‐intestinal tissue damage. These athletes must become very educated and conscious of what foods contain gluten and consume sufficient carbohydrate based foods that are gluten free.

Misconceptions continue to prevail that to lose weight, carbohydrate must be reduced. However, low carbohydrate diets can impact performance, increase the risk of injury and illness, and reduce the effectiveness of recovery. They also can impact health such as gut function may be compromised due to the low fiber intake; the elevated cholesterol and saturated fat intake can increase the risk for heart disease; and the increased stress on the kidneys can lead to kidney stones and complications.

So say YES to carbohydrates but choose them wisely. Nutrient dense carbohydrate rich foods athletes should be eating consist of:
• breads
• cereals
• grains (e.g. pasta, rice)
• fruit
• starchy vegetables (e.g. potato, corn)
• legumes
• low-fat dairy products

Highly digestible carbohydrates such as sport drinks, gels, and chews should be consumed during and post exercise to help delay the onset of fatigue.


The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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