Carbohydrates are made up of starch, fibre and sugar. When starches and fibre are present in a food, it forms complex carbohydrates that takes the body longer to digest. This prevents the blood sugar from spiking, and promotes even energy levels and longer satiety.
Sugars are the carbohydrates in their simplest form (i.e. glucose, sucrose, and fructose), and digest quickly, causing a fast spike in blood sugar. Sugars are a quick form of energy.
To achieve a balanced blood sugar and energy level, it is ideal to focus on complex carbohydrates throughout the day (i.e. whole grains, vegetables, high fibre fruits). However, it important to recognize that there is a time and place for those simple sugars as well!
Carbohydrates are the preferred fuel for our muscle tissue and brain. If you are going into an intense training session without a meal or snack for a couple of hours, eating a snack containing simple sugars (easy to digest carbohydrates) is a good idea. This will give your body energy to move and perform during your training session. It will help you protect your energy stores (glycogen) in your tissues, improving your performance (especially for higher intensity sessions or training sessions that last over an hour).
Here are some general examples of pre-workout snacks (try to have 30-60 mins before your workout):
- A package of flavoured quick oats
- Orange juice mixed with water or coconut water
- Rice pudding
During longer, higher-intensity training
During longer bouts of intense activity or training, it is important to provide your body with a simple sugar. This will help to maintain blood sugar levels, which will not only protect glycogen stores but also prevent muscle breakdown during your workout. Sport supplements like gels, gummies, and sport drinks with added electrolytes and sugars are popular, especially for long-distance aerobic sports (e.g. marathon or triathlon races). Homemade snacks or drinks are also an option. Consider working one-on-one with a Registered Nutritionist if you are an athlete looking for an individualized fueling plan to maximize performance.
Consume a simple sugar after intense training sessions or workouts, especially if you have an active job or are training more than once in 12-hour period. Combine simple sugars with protein to recover glycogen stores and replenish muscle post-workout. Simple sugars are most effective if you can get the recovery snack within 30 minutes of finishing your training session.
Not all workout routines will require recovery nutrition. It depends on the individual, their training program, and performance goals. Here are some general examples of recovery snacks:
- Shake: 100% fruit juice + protein powder
- Smoothie: Banana + milk + Greek yogurt
- Chocolate milk + white milk
- Shake: Chocolate milk + protein powder
- Cottage cheese + canned pineapple in juice
- Shake: Protein powder that includes carbohydrate + water
As a treat!
Simple sugars sweeten our favourite delicious desserts and treats. To achieve balance and foster a positive relationship with food, it is important to recognize that treats are a part of a healthy eating routine. Planning to mindfully incorporate your favourite piece of cheesecake or chocolate in your week is an important process. It is okay to give yourself permission to have a bowl of your favourite chips or indulge in your favourite Italian pasta dish. When simple sugars are enjoyed in mindful amounts on occasion, it is a part of a balanced eating routine.
By Susan Sommerville – Registered Dietitian (Nutritionist)