What parents and athletes need to know about carbohydrates in the form of sugar

An athlete’s overall nutrition needs vary depending on several factors, including the type of sport and duration of time in motion. Specifically during activity, an athlete needs fuel to perform, and carbohydrates, including sugars, have been found to be functional for athletes who are engaged in activity for at least an hour who have a performance goal. “The increased activity level of an athlete in the moment of training or competition calls for additional fuel, in essence, a readily available source of energy,” says Scott Sehnert, Auburn University sport dietitian and education chair of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. “As registered dietitians, it’s our job to ensure athletes understand the importance of fueling their bodies to help them perform at their best, and science supports appropriate consumption of carbohydrates, including those in the form of sugar, to help improve intermittent exercise capacity for athletes training or competing for more than 60 minutes.”

All sugars are not the same and athletes mostly need forms that can be quickly converted to energy (digested and absorbed) to help them perform at their best. A variety of well-respected organizations, including the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Olympic Committee Guidelines recommend team sport athletes consume 30 to 60 grams of rapidly digested and absorbed carbohydrates per hour when training or competing for greater than 60 minutes. Research verifies these recommendations and emphasizes the need for easily digestible sugar – such as glucose and sucrose.

“In addition to consuming the right type and amount of fuel, sucrose or glucose, athletes need to consider how much their bodies can handle,” adds Sehnert. “The science supports solutions containing no more than 14 grams of rapidly absorbed carbohydrates per 8 ounces of fluid to help athletes meet fuel recommendations while promoting fluid absorption and minimizing gastrointestinal distress. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade Thirst Quencher, follow these recommendations.”


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