Carbs are fuel for our bodies and just like a car need gasoline to drive, we need carbs to perform. The right kind of carbs, at the right time are essential for top of the line athletic performance. Carbohydrates are in fact the most essential source of fuel within an athletes diet. Yet, mentioning the word carb is almost like mentioning a four letter word.  It seems that most of the headlines out there are suggesting a “low carb” diet. Does this strategy actually actually pay off, or is it detrimental to your performance?

No Fuel – Low Fuel Strategies

Many of the athletes adopting the low-carbohydrate/high-protein, high-fat diets are also adopting a No fuel/low fuel strategy during training. Many times, for the athletes their thought process is, “Why should I put calories in during exercise? The less I eat during exercise, the more calories and fat I will burn.” Often times we are drawn towards such food fads and diets because we are looking for a fast weight loss. Sure, reducing carbohydrates can create fast weight loss, however the loss this is not typically sustainable.  This is where we should ask ourselves if we are looking for “change” or if we want  meaningful and sustainable results for a lifetime. There is a big difference between these two options. A food fad or diet that brings about a quick weight loss and then an even quicker weight gain did not bring about results. Either way, it simply brought about change. The body changed temporarily and then went right back. Instead we as athletes should adopt a nutrition lifestyle that will produce meaningful and sustainable results for a lifetime.

The Fat Burning Myth

It is common for athletes to avoid carbohydrates in an attempt to teach their body to burn fat as the major fuel source. The thinking has become that consuming carbohydrates and the ability to burn fat do not go together. The facts are that athletes can burn fat AND consume carbohydrates. Always keep this statement in mind, “Fat burns in the carbohydrate flame.” Not only do carbohydrates provide energy for working muscles, they also assist in enabling fat metabolism. In short, carbohydrates must be present in order for fat to be utilized for energy.

Avoid the Diet Culture

Listening to the “talk” of many of these individuals that jump on the food fad and diet bandwagon there is usually a common theme. For example, the high protein-high fat/low carbohydrate diet is called Diet A. An individual will start Diet A and they will be super motivated. Then, within a very short period of time (sometimes before they even start even), many of these individuals will say something like the following when asked how the Diet A is going, “Well, I am now 70/30 Diet A.” What happened to All-In Diet A? Well, what happened is that these individuals’ bodies began screaming for carbohydrates and thankfully these individuals listened. They are not ignoring their body and they are feeding their body the carbohydrates that have been cut out. Of course, when their energy, performance and recovery are still not up to their expectations the 70/30 quickly becomes 60/40 and so on.

Carbs are needed for our Mental Health

The need for carbs is not for just our body. The glucose in carbohydrates fuels our brain to produce the energy that motivates us to move. When we deprive ourselves of carbohydrates we are essentially cutting off our brains main energy supply.

Veggies don’t count as Carbs

With there being so many high protein diets in the health and fitness world today, there tends to be a big misunderstanding with veggies. People think that a veggie has enough carbohydrates for the day. While some veggies have more carbs than others, most don’t have enough to really make enough of a difference. One cup of broccoli only has about 5.8g of carbs. Yes, this adds a few grams of carbs to our meal but it’s not enough to consider it a source of carbohydrates. To compare, a slice of whole grain bread had around 4-5g of protein, but that is not enough to consider it a source of protein.

Performance & Carbohydrates: the bottom line: 

When it comes to CrossFit Athletes and performance and their in-training fuel, carbohydrates continue to be vitally important just as they do in everyday meals and snacks. In order to maximize and optimize performance and recovery, athletes need to continually load and reload muscle glycogen stores. This process can not happen with a low carb/high protein diet.

Athletes looking to maximize their mental focus, optimize physical performance, build a desirable body composition, recover easier/stronger and build meaningful and sustainable results that last a lifetime should avoid the diet culture band wagon. Avoid everybody shoving diet X Y & Z in your face, and focus on eating a balanced diet that is not lacking in one thing or another. Proper fueling of our bodies as athletes is so important especially since we put in so many hours each week moving our bodies. Don’t be afraid of carbs, when eaten properly they can take us to the next level.