What are Simple Carbs?
What are Simple Carbs?
By Emily R Pappas, M.S.
Have you ever found yourself crashing in the middle of training?
You know the feeling. You know you can go further, faster, longer but…you just ‘run out of gas’?
Let me tell you the counterintuitive secret our female athletes use to train harder for longer, without feeling the mid-workout slump:
Carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient, especially to the female athlete’s diet. When you’re training as hard as you can, you body needs energy fast.
There is a lot of buzz around eating or drinking simple carbs in the nutrition field. Contrary to what a lot of weight loss or dieting fads say, consuming simple carbohydrates isn’t 100% bad.
What matters most is knowing
what they are
and when you need them
What are “SIMPLE” carbs?
Simple carbs are carbohydrates that digest FAST.
Fast digestion means a SPIKE in blood sugar. This is ideal when your muscles are hungry and need an immediate boost.
Simple carbs aren’t complicated: They’re sugar.
“You’re telling me to eat sugar?!”
It’s not as crazy as it sounds!
Nutrition coaches everywhere advise against ever consuming simple carbs.
The problem is this: Most nutrition coaches have clients who are just starting their fitness journey. Their clients have years of poor eating habits to break. Consequently, they just don’t have the experience in designing nutrition plans for the female athlete.
As an athlete, you aren’t sitting on the couch eating pints of ice cream every night. You train hard- and you actively think about how you’re fueling your body.
If you find yourself struggling to push through long sessions of high intensity training, you might not be getting the fuel you need.
Simple carbs are a great way to give you the boost you need at the peak of your session- but you have to know where to find them and the right time to use them.
When do I need simple carbs?
Quick bursts of energy are exactly what the body needs during long periods of moderate to high intensity training.
Be careful! Consuming simple carbs during low intensity training could be counterproductive to your fitness goals. Consuming simple carbs when our bodies don’t need them can lead to the infamous sugar crash and, even worse, sugar storage in our fat cells.
Female athletes should consider not just “how many minutes” you are clocking in every week, but specifics, like:
the intensity of the specific exercise you’re doing
and how long each session is.
Each female athlete is unique. Different sports, body types, skill levels, as well as the day-to-day energy level of the individual athlete all affect how a body is burning energy during training.
When do you need simple carbs?
During moderate to high intensity training
During long training sessions (60+ min)
After sixty minutes of high intensity training, you need to start replenishing the energy you’ve burned. Your glycogen stores are depleted during long sessions of running, biking, swimming, lifting, or intense cardio. Simple carbs help you refuel.
Simple carbs can also be beneficial when consumed immediately after exercise when the muscles are primed for sugar uptake. Remember, we want sugar to fuel muscle- not to be stored in fat cells.
What are the best DURING or POST workout carbs?
For quick energy during training, look for liquid simple carbs. Liquid carbs are easier to digest, and won’t leave you feel heavy during long, high intensity sessions.
Want to know the best simple carbs?
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade
A bag of your favorite fruit snacks can also do the trick!
Pro tip: For faster absorption, choose a source with two sources of carbohydrates, such as fructose and glucose.
What about using simple carbs for post training recovery?
Anytime you have training sessions scheduled less than 24 hrs apart, simple carbs are key to recovery.
Simple carbs ensure your muscles receive the sugar they need to restore glycogen levels. Adding them to your post-workout program will help you bounce back from the previous session, and prepare your body for the next.
This is critical for female athletes who are in intense, consecutive day training programs pre-season.
Great carbs for post workout:
Breads (especially toast and jam)
Simple carbs are the perfect fast release of energy required to help REFILL you energy stores after activity and PREPARE your body for future activity!