Carbohydrates in Sport

Hidratos de Carbono y Deporte

The importance of Carbohydrates as macronutrients in sports performance and recovery.

  1. What are Carbohydrates?
    1. What are the functions of carbohydrates in sports?
    2. What are the types of Carbohydrates that exist?
  2. Carbohydrates as an energy source for sports.
  3. How to apply the best nutritional strategy in competition?
  4. Bibliography

01 | What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are molecules composed of Carbon, Hydrogen and Oxygen, with certain proportions of these components that are specifically these:

6 : 12 : 6

This means that for every 6 carbon atoms, each carbohydrate contains 12 hydrogen and 6 more oxygen. This formulation is included in our performance range, both Seawater Energy Hydrogels and Isotonic & Hypotonic Sports Drink.

Its main task, within the field of sports, will be energy metabolism from glycolysis to obtain ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy currency into which all the food we eat is broken down. are ingested.

Outside of this sports field and, in physiological terms, it is interesting to emphasize that the digestive processes, the beating of the heart, the generation of thoughts, the maintenance of the nervous system and many other functions that allow life are consuming ATP at all times.

In the same way, all our metabolism manifests itself in two ways, catabolism or degradation and anabolism or creation.

In this article we are going to explain how the intake and subsequent degradation (catabolization) of carbohydrates influence sports practice.

01. 01 | What are the functions of carbohydrates in sports?

The two main functions of this macronutrient, in sports, are:

  • Energy function
  • Resynthesis of muscle and liver glycogen.

The ultimate goal of the energy function is to obtain ATP, which is the molecule that will allow muscle contraction to occur.

To obtain it, however, the carbohydrates that come from our diet or from the glycogen storage deposits (reserve carbohydrates) that we have stored in the muscles and liver must be previously broken down.

The purpose of this degradation is to obtain Glucose molecules (H2C12O6), which will be the main way to obtain energy, which is GLYCOLYSIS. The ultimate goal of this metabolic pathway is to obtain ATP.

The second function has to do with glycogen resynthesis, or what is the same, the need after any sport to eat carbohydrates to “fill up” again the bins that have been emptied during activity. It is mainly a question of not being in continuous energy debt with our body after carrying out our training sessions, since this can have adverse effects on our performance, not only in sports, but also in our daily life.

It is also important to clarify that from a physiological point of view, there are other very interesting metabolic pathways to train that provide extra energy to the Glycolysis pathway, and that in specific strategies our body is capable of perform and recover without the need to ingest carbohydrates in a timely manner.

01. 02 | What are the types of Carbohydrates that exist?

There are several types of carbohydrates and they are classified according to the length of their carbon chain. Basically they are distinguished into two basic categories:

  1. Sugars – are soluble in water and directly digestible by our body (glucose, sugar, fructose),
  2. Complex sugars or Carbohydrates – composed of longer chains of sugars, they are not soluble in water and to be digested they must be broken down in our body until its simplest version.

Complex carbohydrates are subdivided into the following categories based on the length of their sugar chains:

  1. Disaccharides
  2. Oligosaccharides
  3. Polysaccharides

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02 | Carbohydrates as an energy source for sports performance.

As we have seen, the main function of this macronutrient has to do with obtaining energy for our cells. But, obviously, it is not the only energy pathway available to our body, since evolutionarily we would not have prospered if we had always depended on the intake of energy foods on a continuous basis, since there have not always been full pantries, supermarkets, and availability immediate food.

In order to continue to exist as a species, our physiology created other mechanisms to obtain energy in cases of famine or low availability of this energetic macronutrient.

Taking this fact to the sports field, it means that apart from Carbohydrates, we can obtain energy from other macronutrients, in the form of food or reserves that we have in our body.

Sources of energy in sports:

  1. Utilization of stored ATP – very small reserves, only lasting a few seconds.
  2. Circulating glucose – part of the circulating glucose is used in the first movements.
  3. Glycogen Hydrolysis – liver and muscle glycogen stores begin to be broken down into glucose, which passes into the blood and is used to obtain ATP.
  4. Carbohydrate replacement – ​​the intake of gels or bars during sports activity is done to continue supplying glucose and storing glycogen so that processes 2 and 3 continue to occur.
  5. Utilization of other macronutrients – if trained, the body can supply energy through reserve fats, and through these, synthesize glucose or glycogen to be stored .

It is vitally important to understand that none of these energy pathways is turned on or off at any time, they all produce energy at different or with different prevalence depending on ATP/time demands, or what is the same depending on the intensity of the exercise we perform.

03 | How to apply the best nutritional strategy in competition?

The best way to start this point is to emphasize that the digestive system or, what is the same, the nutritional strategy, must be trained in the same way as we would with any muscle, or physiological system, since if we do not do it, it will be very likely that in the competition we will suffer digestive problems.

The most accepted general recommendations are indicated below, but it must be taken into account that it will depend on many factors that must be taken into consideration:

  1. Exercise intensity
  2. Activity duration
  3. Sports discipline
  4. Optimal state of hydration – hypotonic drink
  5. Individual tolerance of each subject
  6. Types of gels or bars chosen - with a formulation adapted to our physiology.

The most accepted amounts, according to sports nutrition, are presented in ranges between 30 to 60g of carbohydrates per hour of physical activity, although there are athletes who have trained to have higher tolerances and others to need higher doses low.

04 | Bibliography

MARINS, J. C. , et al. Carbohydrate supplementation during exercise: Effects on electrolytes and glucose. International Journal of Medicine and Sciences of Physical Activity and Sport, 2018.

de Viñaspre, Pablo López. "Hydrate and carbohydrates in intermittent esports Hydration and MACMILLAN, Norman. Utility of the glycemic index in sports nutrition.

Chilean nutrition magazine, 2002, vol. 29, no 2, p. 92-97. carbohydrates in intermittent sports. "POINTS 31. 37 (1994).

ZEVALLOS, Carlos Merino. Carbohydrates in physical activity. Systemic, 2010, no 5, p. 60-61.

Rodriguez, Fernando Rodriguez. "Glycemic behavior during resistance exercise, applying two types of carbohydrate rations prior to exercise. "Reading: Physical Education and Sports 85 (2005): 26.

Hairstyle, Ana B. , Miguel A. Rojo-Tirado, and Pedro J. Benedict. "Sugar and physical exercise: its importance in athletes. "Hospital Nutrition 28 (2013): 48-56.

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