6 Carb Rich Foods All Athletes Should Eat

Stack these six carb sources into your diet for supercharged results

Carb rich foods shown as blueberries, banana, and beetroot

Does the thought of food high in carbohydrates make you run a mile? If so, it shouldn’t. For athletes especially, carbohydrates can be beneficial for your all-around performance. Regardless of whether you’re a bodybuilder, runner, or MMA fighter – carbs have got you covered.

Here are 6 carb rich foods all athletes should eat and why…

Bunches of bananas to signify a healthy carb rich food1. Bananas

Bananas are one of the most popular eaten fruits in the world. You’re most likely familiar with the Cavendish variety, which is yellow when ripe and a sweet dessert banana.

If you don’t, you’re missing out…

These guys are rich in carbohydrates that are primed for energy. But not only that, they’re packed full of fiber alongside a fair few antioxidants. You could say there’s more than a bunch of health benefits to be snapped up here.

Inside one medium banana you should be able to find around 33% of your RDI of vitamin B6, 11% of vitamin C, 8% of magnesium, and 14% of your daily manganese. There are many other health optimizing minerals too, including the likes of potassium and copper.

According to studies, bananas can also stave off cramps and soreness from exercise. So as an athlete, a banana can help dominate the DOMS from training or keep you fueled and loose in a session [1] [2].

Our tip is to throw a banana or two into your training bag. After your session, tuck into one to replenish your glycogen stores and influence your rate of recovery. They’re super convenient, easy on the stomach, and perfect as a post-workout snack.

Bowl of carb rich oatmeal2. Oatmeal

Oats are an insanely rich whole grain food. Besides just being tasty, they’re filled with protein and fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Inside each tiny oat, athletes can find zinc, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin B1 to name just a few. Together, the collection of micronutrients can power everything from tissue repair, to muscle function and even enhance testosterone production.

Oatmeal is also a respectable source of protein. Nutrition researchers say they stand out from most breakfast cereals due to their considerably higher amino acid content [4]. So, for athletes wanting to build muscle, oats are a perfect breakfast.

But, what about those wanting to stay lean too? Beta glucans have got your back. These are soluble fibers found in abundance in oats, which stop sharp rises in blood sugar levels and insulin.

Beta glucans also attracts water and increases the thickness of digested food – this improves satiety. If that wasn’t enough, this swelling of food means it’s digested slower, allowing for better nutrient absorption [5] [6]. Plus, that feeling of fullness is important for athletes looking to lose weight as they banish hunger.

When you put it like that, maybe oatmeal should have been first on our list.

Carb rich quinoa in a bowl 3. Quinoa

We could stick a superfood label on any of these seven carbs, but Quinoa might deserve it the most.

It’s gluten-free, stacked with vitamins, and jam-packed with protein. So much so, that quinoa is one of the only plant-based sources featuring all nine essential amino acids. Vegan athletes take note.

One whole cup of the grainy stuff brings in a hefty eight grams of protein. Most importantly though, quinoa is an impressive source of lysine. Athletes need this essential amino acid in abundance because it’s important for building muscle.

According to research, lysine can also protect your bones by bettering calcium absorption and retention [7]. Why does it matter? Stronger bones mean stronger, less injured athletes.

You’ll also bag 58% of your RDA of manganese, 30% of magnesium, and 13% of zinc from a single cup of quinoa [8]. So, while quinoa is good for the gen-pop, it’s even better for athletes.

Quinoa supports better muscle growth and function, has anti-inflammatory properties, and is also rich in iron. The latter will help with the upkeep of energy for training, while the other two should enhance your recovery [9].

Carb rich blueberries4. Blueberries

Sometimes us athletic types get so hung up on the bigger carbs we forget about berries. But did you know tiny powerhouses are some of the most highly nutritious foods on the planet? Yes, we know you did. Like us, you might just sometimes forget about the humble blueberry.

One cup of these small but mighty berries boasts around four grams of fiber. It’ll also supply you with 24% of your RDI of immune supporting vitamin C, and 36% of your necessary vitamin K [10]. Blueberries are also rich in manganese too, which is an essential mineral needed to maintain bone health.

There is a study out there that showed blueberries speed up muscle recovery post-strenuous exercise. Researchers seem to believe this is down to the powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties within them [11] [12]. Any athlete worth their weight in bumper plates knows how much better recovery could benefit them… and their biceps.

Speaking of antioxidants, blueberries are the undisputed champion in this arena. Apparently, they have the highest antioxidant levels out of all common fruits and veggies [13] [14].

What does this mean for athletes? Besides better all-around health; you can expect boosted brain power. That’s faster reactions, quicker decisions, and better memory of plays or cues in the gym [15]. Who wouldn’t want to have a mental edge over their competition?

Carb rich sweet potatoes5.  Sweet potatoes

A favorite among the bodybuilding crowd, sweet potato has become a fitness staple. There are many versions of sweet potato such as the purple and white, but we’re drawn to the legendary orange variety.

It’s for good reason too, according to scientists. They’re an awesome energy source, alongside supplying plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. You see why a fear of starchy vegetables has no place in an athlete’s diet? It just doesn’t make sense.

A whole 200g of sweet potato holds around 796% of your daily vitamin A requirements. Plus, by adding this much to your diet you’ll pull in 65% of your recommended vitamin C too. Team that with 50% of your manganese, 29% of B6, and 27% of potassium for a truly spectacular root.

Much like many of the others on this list, sweet potatoes are full of antioxidants. These are vital for reducing the harmful impact of free radicals generated during intense exercise. Therefore, by eating foods high in antioxidants you can improve recovery between sessions.

Interestingly, not many people know sweet potatoes protect your immune system too. Orange sweet potatoes especially are dense in beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A inside the body [16].

Since lower levels of vitamin A have been linked to poor immunity, chopping and chewing sweet potato can help keep illness at bay [17]. For athletes, this means longer in the iron house, and less time spent sick on the couch.

Carb rich beetroot on a plate6. Beetroot

Also known as beet, this dark purple root vegetable is the dark horse of root vegetables. As an athlete you might have come across it in pre-workout powders and intra-workout formulas.

If not, you’re going to be rushing to the nearest grocery store soon.

First things first, beetroot is highly nutritious. Within each tasty root you’ll find hearty amounts of vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous and folate to name a few. Beets are also a good source of fiber, which we know is good for digestion and regularity.

Now, all of the above are essentials for athletes. But beetroot is far more than a stack of vitamins and minerals. It’s also a performance enhancer…

The nitrates found within beetroot are proven to improve sports performance. They do this by enhancing the use of mitochondria, which produce energy inside your cells [18].

Finally, bodybuilders and endurance athletes can come together to celebrate this tiny root. Because not only can it enhance oxygen use by up to 20% but it delivers almighty weight room results too. Beetroot has been proven to help athletes extend their times to exhaustion, while also providing mean muscle pumps and increased strength [19] [20].

Final word on carb rich foods every athlete should eat

High carb foods get a bad rap in today’s society. Men are told time and time again, they lead to increased fat levels, weight gain, and are… unhealthy? We came here to tell you that’s far from the truth.

A low carb diet is actually detrimental to building muscle.

Science has proven that carb intake plays an important part in enhancing protein synthesis, which as we know, is the process of rebuilding stacked muscle mass.

For a more in-depth look check out our article all about carbs and gaining muscle.

If muscle building isn’t your goal, at least take a moment to consider the energy carbs provide. We won’t dig too deep into the science here, but carbohydrates are your body’s preferred energy source.

There’s a reason sugar gets you so buzzed to move – it’s instant energy. The closer you get to straight glucose the harder the hit. Why take all of that away? Imagine how strong, fast, and powerful you’d be with a full gas tank of fuel.

The best way to fit carbs into your lifestyle

So, what are the hard and fast rules for carbs? There’s no strict way to control your carb intake for every occasion. Instead, we say:

  • Work out your necessary macros
  • Hit your carb count daily
  • Measure carb intake on a macro counter app
  • Consider carb cycling to stay lean
  • Look out for added sugars in dried fruits
  • Fat-free foods can have added sugars too
  • Remember that one gram of carbs is nine kilocalories

So, there you have it. Hop straight to the grocery store and stack that basket high with carby goodness. We’ve given you the science now you just need to make the gains.

 

References

[1] Norris F, Gasteiger E, Chatfield P. An electromyographic study of induced and spontaneous muscle cramps. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1957;9(1):139-147. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(57)90118-9

[2] Miller K. Plasma Potassium Concentration and Content Changes After Banana Ingestion in Exercised Men. J Athl Train. 2012;47(6):648-654. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.6.05

[3] Nieman D, Gillitt N, Henson D et al. Bananas as an Energy Source during Exercise: A Metabolomics Approach. PLoS ONE. 2012;7(5):e37479. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0037479

[4] Klose C, Arendt E. Proteins in Oats; their Synthesis and Changes during Germination: A Review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2012;52(7):629-639. doi:10.1080/10408398.2010.504902

[5] Hou Q, Li Y, Li L et al. The Metabolic Effects of Oats Intake in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients. 2015;7(12):10369-10387. doi:10.3390/nu7125536

[6] Cook CM, Rains TM, Maki KC. Effects of Oats on Obesity, Weight Management, and Satiety. Oats Nutrition and Technology. 2013:265-279. doi:10.1002/9781118354100.ch12.

[7] Civitelli R, Fedde K, Harter J, Halstead L, Gennari C, Avioli L. Effect of L-lysine on cytosolic calcium homeostasis in cultured human normal fibroblasts. Calcif Tissue Int. 1989;45(3):193-197. doi:10.1007/bf02556063

[8] Quinoa, cooked Nutrition Facts & Calories. Nutritiondata.self.com. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/cereal-grains-and-pasta/10352/2. Published 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019.

[9] Stewart L, Soileau J, Ribnicky D et al. Quercetin transiently increases energy expenditure but persistently decreases circulating markers of inflammation in C57BL/6J mice fed a high-fat diet. Metabolism. 2008;57:S39-S46. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2008.03.003

[10] Blueberries, raw Nutrition Facts & Calories. Nutritiondata.self.com. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1851/2. Published 2019. Accessed May 10, 2019.

[11] McLeay Y, Barnes MJ, Mundel T, Hurst SM, Hurst RD, Stannard SR. Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):19. Published 2012 May 7. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-19

[12] CHARGÉ S, RUDNICKI M. Cellular and Molecular Regulation of Muscle Regeneration. Physiol Rev. 2004;84(1):209-238. doi:10.1152/physrev.00019.2003

[13] Wolfe K, Kang X, He X, Dong M, Zhang Q, Liu R. Cellular Antioxidant Activity of Common Fruits. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(18):8418-8426. doi:10.1021/jf801381y

[14] Wu X, Beecher G, Holden J, Haytowitz D, Gebhardt S, Prior R. Lipophilic and Hydrophilic Antioxidant Capacities of Common Foods in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(12):4026-4037. doi:10.1021/jf049696w

[15] Subash S, Essa MM, Al-Adawi S, Memon MA, Manivasagam T, Akbar M. Neuroprotective effects of berry fruits on neurodegenerative diseases. Neural Regen Res. 2014;9(16):1557–1566. doi:10.4103/1673-5374.139483

[16] Carotenoids and β-carotene in orange fleshed sweet potato: A possible solution to vitamin A deficiency.

[17] Semba RD. Vitamin A, infection and immune function. Nutrition and immune function.:151-169. doi:10.1079/9780851995830.0151.

[18] Larsen F, Schiffer T, Borniquel S et al. Dietary Inorganic Nitrate Improves Mitochondrial Efficiency in Humans. Cell Metab. 2011;13(2):149-159. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2011.01.004

[19] Muggeridge D, Howe C, Spendiff O, Pedlar C, James P, Easton C. A Single Dose of Beetroot Juice Enhances Cycling Performance in Simulated Altitude. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2014;46(1):143-150. doi:10.1249/mss.0b013e3182a1dc51

[20] Mosher S, Sparks S, Williams E, Bentley D, Mc Naughton L. Ingestion of a Nitric Oxide Enhancing Supplement Improves Resistance Exercise Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016;30(12):3520-3524. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001437

 

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  1. Nice article, Carb-rich food for athlete Because they are easy to eat and digest and are loaded with fast-acting carbohydrates. bananas make the perfect pre- or post-exercise snack.

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