By Emily R Pappas, M.S.

Are you getting enough carbs?

Here’s the trend: Instagram models, Keto fad diets, and anti-carb rumors have lead performance-seeking women astray.

At best, diets that ignore this essential macronutrient slow progress and make training difficult.

At its worst, low or no-carb diets can sabotage performance, wreak havoc on essential hormone production, and even cause bone loss in female athletes. (Psssst: Here’s why we know Keto diets are a bad fit for female athletes.)

Long story short… carbs are not the enemy!

All types of carbs fuel athletic performance and recovery.

In case you missed it, check out out CARBS 101 article to find out how we KNOW carbs are the PREFERRED fuel for female athletics such as soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, and weightlifting.

 The key is knowing which type of carb to use….and when to use it.

Let’s look at how complex carbs can supercharge your training and help your body recover fast.

But first…


What is a “COMPLEX” carb?

Before diving into complex carbs- remember neither simple nor complex carbs are “good” or “bad”. They both have their place in fueling your body for peak performance.

Unlike Simple carbs  which are FAST ACTING, complex carbs can be characterized as having a slower release into your blood stream. 


While simple carbs are the perfect fuel source to help prevent you ‘hitting a wall ‘during your big game or lift, complex carbs give your body a longer, more lasting source of fuel.

The difference between simple and complex carbs:

  • Simple carbs are FAST acting because they only have one or two types of sugar (think ‘fruit snacks’ or ‘powerade’)

  • Complex carbs are a combination of multiple sugars (or starches) that have “more” to them. Not only do they consist of three or more sugars combined, but they also have one KEY ingredient: FIBER.

Why does fiber matter?

Fiber SLOWS the rate carbohydrates are broken down and delivered to your blood. When food takes longer to digest, you slow the release of that sugar into your blood stream for delivery to tissues such as your muscles, brain, and heart. 

Slower digestion keeps you feeling more satiated for longer AND your blood sugar remains more constant vs spikes.  

Fast acting carbs lack fiber and enter you blood stream FAST.   If your tissues don’t need that sugar right away, it is removed from your blood and stored for later….leading to the infamous ‘sugar crash’.  


Where do I get complex carbs?

Starchy foods and whole grains are some of the best places to find complex carbs.  

Here are a few favorites from our athletes at Relentless Athletics:

  • Yams

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Pumpkins and squash

  • Steel-cut oats

  • Whole wheat pasta

  • Couscous

  • Quinoa

  • Fresh fruits

Specifically, look for foods made from whole-grains as they contain the fiber you need to stay satiated and well energized!

Any of these choices will give you that slow release energy to keep you fueled longer.

When looking for complex carbs, avoid white rice, pasta, or white flour baked goods. While they aren’t bad (and are quite useful when following a performance-focused nutrition plan) they fall more into the “simple carb” category as they the lack fiber needed to slow digestion bad!

Remember, there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ carbs.  Rather, just preferred times to consume them when being mindful of your current recovery and future performance!


When should I eat complex carbs?

The athletic industry stresses the importance of protein pre and post workout, but carbs are EVEN MORE vital!

Before your workout or game, complex carbs are ESSENTIAL.  Eating before game time helps ensure sugar will be present in your blood by the time your glycogen stores have been used up by the middle of your game!  

After your workout or game, complex carbs are also essential in replenishing the glycogen stores burned during training. This is especially important if you’re a female athlete who is ramping up her training as her season approaches.  Continued high performance over an entire season requires proper recovery after each game and training session.  Failing to replenish your glycogen stores after training TODAY will lead to a poorer performance in your game tomorrow.

Pre-training: Carbs act as energy in waiting…making sure we have the energy we need when we start to push.

Post-training: your muscles once again need a steady release of energy to fuel the recovery process.

Remember- recovery is an ongoing process and can take hours and even DAYS after your training or game has ended. This is a critical time for an athlete. You don’t want to run out of fuel in the middle of rebuilding a growing muscle!

Complex carbs are the perfect slow release of energy required to help repair, rebuild, and ADAPT for better performance next time around! 

Is your nutrition plan giving you the carbs you need to perform your best?  

If you think your nutrition plan is falling short- I’m here to help! Let’s get on a call and talk about where you are- and how to get you to the next level.

Underfueling is a HUGE problem with female athletes. At Relentless Athletics, we specialize in helping female athletes become their best by helping them eat- and train- for their sport year round.