Carbohydrates and Proteins

It is an important goal for all athletes to provide their bodies with appropriate fuels to maintain and enhance their performance. Carbohydrates and proteins are a major source for the athlete.

Most athletes need to consider the amount of time between eating and performance when choosing foods. The following are recommendations and facts to consider when consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after training or competition.


Athletes: for this purpose an athlete is defined as one who participates in sport activity with emphasis on cardio-respiratory endurance training (highly aerobic).

Exercise: endurance, strength, and flexibility activities are all components of exercise that keep a person fit and healthy.

Fatique: the body's energy reserves are exhausted and waste products, such as lactic acid, have increased.  the athlete will not be able to continue activity at the same intensity or rate.

Glycogen: a stored form of glucose in the liver and muscle.

Consuming Carbohydrates Before Exercise

3-4 Hours Before Competition

(~ 700 kcal or 150 grams of carbs)

  • 2 servings of fruits and vegetables, 2 servings of grain products, 1 serving of a lower fat milk product, and 1 serving of a lean meat product.

Ideas to build your meal: fresh fruit, fruit or vegetable juice, baked potatoes, cereal with low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt, bread or bagel with peanut butter, lean meat, low-fat cheese, or spaghetti with tomato sauce.

2-3 Hours Before Competition

(~300-400 kcal or 90 grams of carbs) 

  •  1 serving fruit and vegetables and 2 servings of grain product.

Ideas to build your meal: fresh fruit, fruit or vegetable juice and bread, bagel, English muffin (with limited amounts of margarine, butter, or cream cheese), oatmeal, or pancakes.

1 Hour or Less Before Competition

(~100 kcal or 30 grams of carbs)

  • 1 serving of fresh fruit or juice or 1½ cup of a sports drink.

Note: Protein plays a minor role in providing energy for the body during exersice.

The Pre-exercise Meal

The Pre-exercise Meal Provides Two Main Purposes

  1. It keeps the athlete from feeling hungry before and during exercise.
  2. It maintains optimal levels of blood glucose for the exercising muscles.

The pre-exercise meal should be eaten 1 to 4 hours before exercising to allow time for digestion and absorption and complete emptying of the stomach.

Consuming Carbohydrates During Exercise

Carbohydrate intake during exercise improves performance when the exercise lasts longer than one hour. If exercise is less than one hour, ingesting carbohydrates appears to have no benefits in most individuals.

If carbohydrate feeding starts during exercise, it should be continued throughout the exercise.  Discontinuing part-way through can result in fatigue* or decreased performance. More carbohydrates is not better.  Nausea, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea may occur if large amounts of carbohydrate are consumed.

Here Are Some Ideas

  • Fluids: the rate of ingestion should be about ½-1 cup every 15-20 minutes (26–30 g every 30 minutes). Drinks include sport drinks, diluted juice, defizzed regular pop, and sweetened herbal tea.
  • Gels: the rate of ingestion should be 30–40 g every 30 minutes (one gel pack every 30 minutes).
  • Solids: about 30–40 g, such as ¼ bagel, every 30 minutes and drink plain water.

Carbohydrate feeding does not prevent fatigue, it simply delays it.

It is an important goal for all athletes to provide their bodies with appropriate fuels to maintain and enhance their performance. Carbohydrates are a major source for the athlete.

Most athletes need to consider the amount of time between eating and performance when choosing foods. The following are recommendations and facts to consider when consuming carbohydrates before, during, and after training or competition.

Homemade Sports Drink

  • 3½ cups water.
  • ½ cup orange juice.
  • 2½ tablespoons honey or other sugar.
  • ¼ teaspoon salt.

Consuming Carbohydrates after Exercise

Energy is stored as glycogen in muscles. It takes at least 20 hours to restore muscle glycogen after intense exercise. Restoration is enhanced by consuming carbohydrates in the first 15-30 minutes immediately after exercise. Delaying carbohydrate intake after exercise will reduce glycogen restoration.

At least 60-90 g of carbohydrates should be consumed within 15-30 minutes after exercise to maximize muscle glycogen stores. Ideal foods include pasta, sandwiches, yogurt, crackers, bagels, granola bars, or, if preferred, a sports drink. The addition of a small amount of protein will further enhance glycogen restoration.

Athletes should not consume any alcohol during the recovery period. Alcohol will delay the restoration of glycogen.

Why Eat Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy for athletic events. Carbohydrate feedings before exercise can help to restore glycogen stores, which may be called upon during prolonged training and in high-intensity competition.

Carbohydrate meals should be low fat, easily digested, and tolerated by the athlete. Fat intake should be limited because it delays stomach emptying time and takes longer to digest.

Approximate Carbohydrate Content Food Chart

Food Portion Carbs
Bagel Large (3-4 oz) 45-60 g
Bread, sliced 1 slice 15 g
Crackers, rounds, or squares 6-8 crackers 15-20 g
Muffin or pancake  2.5” & 4” diameter respectively 15-20 g
Oatmeal 1/2 cup (1 packet of instant) 15 g
Pasta or rice 1/2 cup cooked (1 oz. dry) 15-20 g
Popcorn 3 cups, popped 15 g
Tortilla, corn or flour 5-6 inch 15 g
Broccoli 1 cup cooked 5-10 g
Salad greens (lettuce, spinach, etc.) 2 cups raw 5-10 g
Carrots, winter squash, pumpkin 1 cup 15 g
Beans, peas, lentils 1 cup 30 g
Sweet potato, corn, regular potato 1 cup 30-45 g
Other vegetables (cucumber, green beans, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes) 1 cup raw or cooked 5-10 g
Apple, banana Large 30 g
Fruit, dried 1/3-1/2 cup 60 g
Fruit juice, lemonade 1 cup 30-45 g
Milk, plain yogurt 1 cup 12 g
Yogurt, sweetened and flavored 1 cup 40-45 g
Fluid-replacement beverage 1 cup 15-19 g
Soda 12 oz. 40-45 g
Sport bar 1 bar 40-60 g
Sport bar, high protein 1 bar 2-30 g
Sugar, jelly, jam, honey 1 tbsp. 15 g

Protein Supplements

Protein supplements are not necessary if you are consuming a variety of food and include good sources of protein. If you want to build or maintain muscle for health, engaging in resistance activities that you enjoy and getting the nutrients you need from food is your best bet.

Do You Get Enough Protein

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, beans, milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, seeds, and soy products are good sources of protein.


Daily Protein Recommendation

Curious about how many grams of protein you need each day? Most of us need about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Let's break that down.

Step 1: weight in pounds ÷ 2.2 = weight in kilograms.

Step 2: weight in kilograms x 0.8 = avg daily protein need.

For example, someone who weighs 170 lbs. (77 kg) would need 62 grams protein/day.

Note: If you consistently do intense and long workouts, you may need closer to 1.0 g or possibly up to 1.2-1.5 g per kilogram of body weight.

Are Protein Supplements Necessary?

Are you taking protein supplements? Maybe you have heard that they will bulk you up or help keep you healthy. First of all, taking protein supplements will not build muscle. It is the resistance activities (exercise) that will maintain or develop muscles.

Protein supplements do provide protein and calories. If you get enough protein and calories from food, you already have the building blocks necessary to maintain and grow muscles. Most of us, even vegetarians and athletes, get enough protein from food. Moreover, food provides other nutrients that you often will not find in protein supplements (e.g., milk has calcium, vitamin D, and riboflavin; nuts contain fibre, iron, and vitamin E).

Cost of Supplements Versus Food

The price of protein supplements can vary quite a bit, making it hard to say whether it is more or less cost-effective to get protein from supplements versus food. Depending on the food and supplement you are comparing, the cost of one gram of protein from supplements could be more, the same, or less than from food.

Are Protein Supplements Safe?

You have decided that you still really want the protein supplement. Research shows that protein supplements are generally not harmful to our health when taking the recommended amount. However, taking large amounts (more than is recommended on the product) for an extended period of time can cause strain on your kidneys, especially if you consume a large amount of protein from food and/or already have existing kidney problems.

Pregnancy and Breast-feeding

There is not enough reliable information about the safety of taking whey protein if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Stay on the safe side and avoid use.

Weight Gain

A “supplement” is just what it sounds like – a source of calories in addition to your regular diet. Regardless of how nutritious your supplement is it has the potential to contribute to weight gain if you do not monitor your total calorie intake. You will need to cut back on something if you are adding a protein supplement. A high-protein product can even make you gain fat since muscle is built from strength training, not high protein food.

Keep the Diet Balanced

The science around eating a balanced diet has been done for you in “Healthy Eating with Canada’s Food Guide.” One risk of using protein supplements is eating a diet that is too high in one food group and disregarding the importance of nutrients from the others. Make sure to continue to eat plenty of vegetables and fruit.

Keep up the Fibre

Although some protein supplements are fortified with dietary fibre, others are not. Lack of dietary fibre can cause issues like constipation, diverticulitis, and related problems. Promote good digestive health by choosing supplements that contain significant amounts of fibre, eat probiotic bacteria, such as yogurt, and keep whole grains, vegetables, and fruit a major part of your diet.

Fuel with Real Food


A lean source of all necessary amino acids and can be prepared in many ways. A six-ounce chicken breast provides 54 grams of protein. Chicken breasts and thighs have similar protein contents but different flavors due to differences in their fat contents.

Soy Protein

A plant-based protein that contains all the essential amino acids. Some studies have found soy protein to be equally as effective in building muscle as whey protein. Common sources of soy protein include tofu, edamame beans, and soy-protein supplements.


An ancient grain famous for its protein content. Unlike most grains, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids — the amino acids that your body cannot make. They are also key for muscle building. Quinoa still contains only eight grams of protein per cup, so it should not be considered a meal’s primary protein source.


Contains slightly less protein per serving than chicken, turkey, or beef, but it is a great source of long-chain omega-3 fats. The protein and fat combination found in salmon makes it ideal for pairing with fibrous vegetables, such as broccoli or asparagus, or rice.

Alternatives to Protein Supplement

Have a protein and carbohydrate snack 15-30 minutes after intense workout. This is a great way to replenish your glycogen stores and helps provide the nutrients your body needs. Most protein supplements contain about 10-12 grams per ½ scoop.

These tasty snack ideas provide about the same amount of protein (plus other nutrients and flavours):

  • A small handful of almonds and piece of fruit.
  • ¾ cup Greek yogurt and 2 tablespoons granola.
  • ¾ cup regular yogurt, 1 tablespoons chia seeds, and ½ cup blackberries.
  • 2 rice cakes with 2 tablespoons nut butter.
  • 1 hardboiled egg and 2 thin slices of cheese on a piece of whole grain toast.
  • ½ cup sliced pineapple with ¼ cup cottage cheese.
  • ¼ can of tuna, lemon juice, and a bit of mayo on 4 plain whole grain crackers.
  • 1 cup shredded wheat (can add 1 teaspoon sugar for flavour) with ¾ cup cows / soy milk (rice, oat, hemp, coconut, and almond milk are all low in protein).
  • 40 grams roasted chicken (the size of half a deck of cards) in a small whole grain tortilla wrap with lettuce and mustard.
  • 1 package plain instant oats and 1 tablespoon hemp seed (can add 1 tsp. sugar for flavour).

Note: Amounts given are guidelines only. You may need more or less depending on your unique needs. You do not need to measure your food; estimating is fine.

Disbuting the Claims

  • Burns fat
  • Protects carbohydrate stores
  • Energizes
  • Does not burn fat
  • Does not protect carbohydrate stores
  • Increases mental alertness
  • Burns fat
  • Does not burn fat
  • Increases lean body mass
  • Increases strength
  • Increases total body and lean mass
  • Increases strength, but is not useful in endurance exercise

Look for a natural health product number (NPN) or a drug identification number (DIN) on products. These numbers certify that the product has been approved in Canada.

Beware: being “natural” or approved for sale does not guarantee it is risk-free!

Quick Facts on Protein

  • Consuming protein with carbohydrates immediately after exercise will increase the restoration rate of muscle glycogen stores. However, protein does not enhance the restoration rate of muscle glycogen stores when intakes of carbohydrate are insufficient.
  • Most athletes’ regular diets provide ample protein. Even if there is an increased need for protein in a particular sport, the increases are easily met by their typical diet. Intakes of additional protein beyond the recommended levels for athletes’ does not increase strength or enhance performance.
  • Protein plays a minor role in providing energy for the body during exercise.


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