Good Sources of Carbohydrates for Athletes

Carbohydrates are an important energy source for athletes. Whether you’re a boxer, dancer, soccer player or figure skater, carbs provide your muscles with the fuel they need to work at their best. However, not all carbohydrates are ideal for athletic performance. Consuming carbohydrates like sugary foods or refined grains can cause energy crashes that interfere with training and competition. Including healthy carbohydrate sources into your sports nutrition diet may help you run, jump and dodge faster.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are carbohydrate-rich foods that are healthier and more nutrient-dense than refined grains. In addition to providing your body with energy for physical activity, whole grains are rich sources of health-boosting vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Healthy whole grains include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, millet, quinoa, millet and brown rice.


Dairy products are ideal for athletes as they are bursting with nutrients like calcium, dietary protein and B vitamins, which are involved in normal muscle function. Dairy products also contain significant amounts of carbohydrates in the form of lactose. Consuming chocolate milk after your workout may speed up recovery and boost muscle growth, research published in the June 2006 “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” found. In this study, a group of cyclists were fed either chocolate milk or a carbohydrate replacement drink after an intense training session. Those that drank chocolate milk performed better during the next training bout than those who received the carbohydrate drink.


Legumes like pinto beans and black beans are rich in complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Consider adding legumes to your diet by cooking bean chili, making bean salads or including them in your favorite soup or casserole recipes. Because legumes can cause bloating and gas, avoid beans before training or an event.


Fruits are a naturally vitamin-rich source of carbohydrates for athletes. Consider eating fruits as part of snacks and desserts to increase your daily fruit intake. Healthy fruits include blueberries, blackberries, oranges, apples, pears and peaches. Fruits are especially beneficial to eat before training as they are digested more rapidly than vegetables and whole grains and can give your working muscles the energy they need to perform at their best.

Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables like yams, eggplant and zucchini are rich in complex carbohydrates. Most starchy vegetables are low on the glycemic index, a measurement of how rapidly a carbohydrate-rich food is digested by your body. Consuming low-glycemic index foods like starchy vegetables provide your body with a sustained energy source that can fuel you for long training sessions, dietitian Debra Wein of the National Strength and Conditioning Association reports. However, white potatoes have a high glycemic index and should be consumed in moderation.

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