Good Carbs & Bad Carbs...

Hello! For those of you that don’t know who I am, I’m here to write a little about food. Why? Well basically I have starred in the YouTube channel: Performance Kitchen twice, and I guess they kind of liked me or know that I like to talk a lot. So why not vocally shut me up for a bit so that I can rant through writing?

I have been playing football since a young age – I joined my first team when I was 6 years old. I played at Youth level for Arsenal, Fulham and Chelsea and when I was seventeen I got a scholarship to play at a University in New York, in the big ol’ U S of A! In five and a half years, I took some classes, kicked a ball around (and won a Conference Championship along the way!) and left with a Psychology Bachelor’s Degree and a Masters in Sports Science. After leaving I worked as a strength coach for a company called Explosive Performance but got a call to move home and play professional football in England in the WSL1. So, that’s how I got here, now how can I help you? Using my experience as an athlete, my education and my own reading, I’ll compile a bunch of notes and then fluff them up for your pleasure of reading. Anyway, enough about my life story let’s see if I can help!

This article will look at carbohydrates, I’ll give a little information about what carbs are and how they work, the different types and then I’ll natter about my own experiences and what works for myself and what could work for you. Before we get started, I just want to state that anything I write, like a lot that is written about diet, it should not be treated as the gospel truth. My writing is based on what I have learnt over the years and my own experiences, everybody is different and I just hope that my experiences may be able to help you.

Carbohydrates are often frowned upon, hopefully I can turn that frown upside down and enlighten you with my love for carbohydrates! At the tender age of eight, all I would eat was pasta (that’s white pasta), grated cheese and ketchup but I finally grew out of that and learnt that diet wasn’t particularly healthy. However, for some reason I’ve always felt carbohydrates have fuelled my body best. Nowadays carbohydrates are treated by some as the Voldermort of the human diet, but if handled well they can be very beneficial to athletes.

When people think carbohydrates, they think; pasta rice, bread but they are also in other foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, nuts, legumes, seeds and sugary food and sweets! Your body takes carbohydrates and turns them into glucose (blood sugar) to use for energy. If the sugar is not used for energy by the cells, tissues and organs it is stored in the liver and muscles for a later date.

You may know that there are simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs are the sugar foods such as table sugar, corn syrup, white bread, honey, …… They are absorbed rapidly so can be a quick source of energy. Complex carbohydrates are the healthier carbs to eat for everyday life as they are slow digesting and lower in sugar.

Now for the science bit: G.I (not Joe), but Glycemic Index - this is how much a food raises blood sugar levels and, in turn, blood insulin levels. Increasing insulin levels frequently can have some negative health effects, therefore, it is best to eat low glycemic index food, unless you are eating after exercise.

White carbohydrates are the ones that most people try to avoid because they have the most sugar levels. But these white carbohydrates are the ones that are good to eat after exercise; because they will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. Remember that after you exercise, you could be in depletion of the fuels that you’ve used. Increasing the blood sugar levels will likely increase the drive of nutrients into muscle cells, this will help in your recovery because your cells are replacing the glucose and glycogen that they used during exercise.

I find that the general recommendation for athletes is 6-10 carbs per kilogram of body weight, however, this does depend on gender and type of sport.  Women will have lower recommended intake as well as less intensity sports or exercise. So, using 8g/kg for my bodyweight I’d have to eat around 436grams of carbohydrates per day. That sounds like a lot but just to put it in to perspective a whole-wheat wrap has around 54 carbohydrates in it (this obviously depends on the where you get it from). So, If I’m training a lot I would go for a higher gram per body weight than 8.  My fitness pal app is a very helpful app when it comes to looking up nutrients in daily foods.

On match day I up my carbohydrate intake beforehand so I feel fully fuelled. However, I have had teammates that can’t eat a lot in the lead up to a game because they don’t want to feel heavy. As I mentioned before, it is key to note that everyone has their own routine and rules for gameday and it is also about trusting your own body. But if you’d like some guidelines, read the bullets below - just remember that they are subjective and you can fine tune them to your own version:

  • Eating carbohydrates 3-4 hours prior to endurance exercise will increase glycogen stores.
  • Ingest 50-75g carbohydrates 30-60 minutes before exercise.
  •  If you would like more Carbohydrates before the game have them immediately before exercise, less than 5 minutes before it is suggested 50g or less (for a woman…so unfair)
  • Carbohydrates during exercise endurance 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour to maintain blood glucose levels.    
  • Drinking carbohydrates 600-1200ml of 6-8% carbohydrate sport drink.
  • After exercise, as soon as possible to 1-1.5 g per kg of body weight in the first 30 minutes.

I hope they are somewhat straight forward, I know you might want specific foods but Google is pretty helpful with the amount of carbohydrates in specific foods so maybe take what I say and then find your own favourite equation of foods!

You’d be surprised how much food you are supposed to eat based on the amount you exercise. I know if I’m training every day of the week, my food intake is supposed to be through the roof. My friends are often surprised about how much food I can put away in a day or how frequently I am hungry but I know my body and I very rarely over indulge on food. The important thing is that you understand the different types of carbohydrate and trust your body to know what you need to eat to fuel your body to perform efficiently.

About the Author: Amber is a professional footballer with Everton Ladies. Watch Amber in the kitchen with us here.