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10 Carbohydrate Options For Athletes In High Carb Phases

10 Carbohydrate Options For Athletes In High Carb Phases

Feb 01, 2023

Perform HQ

It's no secret athletes need their carbohydrates to perform.

Especially when we look exercise at higher intensities the demand on the glycolytic system or ability to use carbohydrates to produce quick energy increases dramatically. Both time duration and intensity influence whether we preference carbs, fats or both as fuel sources for exercise.

Image Credit: Abby Coleman ©

A lot of the time when you see those athletes absolutely pushing themselves but sitting in the middle of the pack, not able to express their true fitness. It's a lack carbohydrates in their system. Not a lack of fitness.

Which unfortunately doesn't get seem and they continue to have unnecessary volumes put on their system.

As a strength & conditioning coach or personal trainer,
Before thinking "More load". Ask the question, "Are they fueled adequately to express the fitness they have?".
Working with a very large number of athletes and doing nutrition for a very large number of athletes i've learnt one thing. They don't each enough carbohydates.

Despite saying "I eat heaps!"

Upon assessment they usually sit 100-300g lower then what they should be.

For reference i see most athletes that we have needing an average of 350-750g of carbs, per day.

Corey Thomas from the Giltinis & Canada rugby being the perfect example. Upon his off-season with us back in 2021 he required upwards of 650g of carbs to complete just his off-season training loads. 

So, in order to increase your carbohydrate load you need to be smart about the foods you pick. Trying to fill up on things like sweet potato, certain rice option, other macronutrients etc. probably won't cut it.

Here's a list of 10 foods we have recommended to our athletes at some point when taking on a higher carbohydrate phase. 
*Please take into consideration your own dietary preference and digestion capabilities of the foods here. 

The main things we consider when choosing these are;
- Digestion capability
- Taste and palatability with high food volumes
- Satiety index
- Fibre content

1. Pasta

As for most of these you will general find options like Gluten Free pasta will provide the best digestion. This is completely up to the athlete whether they do or don't but give both a go and see what works best. The food volume to carbohydrate ratio (meaning less total food volume needed to be eaten) is probably one of the best.

2. Cereal

Again gluten free options from cereal like Freedom Foods rice puffs, xo crunch and so on are a great option. It's a very easy snack option in between meals to get an easy 60-100g of carbs in.

3. Sourdough bread or Bagels

With the higher enzyme load within Sourdough bread it tends to sit a bit better for most when food loads are high. Making a sandwich with the sourdough can be a very convenient way for busy athletes to get both carbs and protein (meat on the sandwich) in. One bagel on it's own (usually split into two halves) is between 50-55g of carbs. Most athletes can eat two of these with some jam on it. That alone hitting between 100-125g of carbs. Very handy! 

4. Jasmine Rice or Sushi Rice

With a low or no fermentation ability Jasmine rice tends to sit the best from a digestive standpoint. Provided you've got the addition of vegetables within your rice meals it can be a great option to get a high load of carbohydrates in your system with a good amount of fibre from our vegetables. Sushi rice due it being in smaller cuts of rice as well as the digestibility, makes it a super easy option to get more carbs in. Few years ago when i was pushing my carbs quite high around the 600-700g and even spent a few days at 1300g of carbs. I used to make home made sushi. Meat, sushi rice, vegetable like cucumber with some soy sauce and was a super easy was to get in plenty of carbs.

5. Pretzels 

These are one of the easiest on the go snacks. Provided the ability to a good amount carbohydrates they provide with an easy digestion ability.

6. Potato fries

The carbohydrate load in these isn't a big difference compared to most. But the key point which is huge in higher carbohydrate diets is the palate of the food. It having a crunch and a different texture you can find the ability to eat more of it increase. Cooking them at home in an airfryer and then putting it with an easily digestable protein source like fish and something like a salad and you've got a meal thats easy to get in a good amount of carbs. But also tastes great. Be mindful of the fat content when choosing these as some pub fries choices can be quite high, not a bad thing, just might bump your fat intake a touch too high for your targets.

7. Sports drinks

These can get an uncessary bad wrap but can be a valuable piece to add in. Key with this is the timing but also digestibility. Keeping in mind it takes time for carbohydrates to get through the digestive tract and into the blood stream. Means sipping on it half way through your training might not be your best bet. I recommend to athletes to start sipping an hour or half and hour prior to training or playing. This way when you begin your high intensity exercise it's readily available within the blood stream. Then resort to sipping or mouth rinsing through your sessions to stay hydrated. Second to that recommending to buy the powered tubs rather then the pre-made ones. By buying the powder and putting it into a water bottle with much more water, diluting it a lot more, you're going to find it much nicer on your digestive system.

8. Fruits & Dried Fruit

Tropical fruit and dried fruit like raisins, dates and sultanas can top up your carbohydrates quite well. Fruits like bananas, pineapple, mangos, grapes, apples and so on provide micronutrient benefits as well. An easy option is to chop up a bunch at the start of the week and put into a bunch of small containers for throughout the week. A bunch of small fruit salads for around times when you exercise or through long periods you're unable to get meals in can be a handy tool. Be mindful of the dose of your dried fruits and your digestion. 

9. Beans

The main reason for picking these is actually not only the carbohydrates. It's the fibre. As we've mentioned before getting in more carbohydrates becomes easier with lower fibre, higher satiety options. But most athletes don't even eat enough fibre to start. The general recommendation is 10-15g per 1000 calories that you eat. It might look like a lot of these options are just quick carb options but one thing you must prioritise and keep a close eye on in high carb phases is your fibre. Adding some beans to your meals with your rice or pasta options is a great way to tick off not only carbs, not only a good source of protein, but also your fibre intake. 

10. Lollies

What! Lollies? This is so bad for you! Upon calorie and carbohydrate targets that get to very high points, you're going to need to introduce some very easy, tasty options that can provide quick energy. This becomes only a small % of the overall food and is not an excuse to miss the foundations of the rest of the diet. Ensuring overall protein, vegetable, calorie and very importantly fibre intakes are where they need to be. Then fill in that top % with things like lollies of preference. As always be mindful of digestion and if a bit dose with effect it. Have a handful, not the whole bag...
Written by Isaac Davidson & Keith Law.