Carbohydrate Supplements for Endurance Athletes

Endurance athletes are not the same average gym goers or even regular athletes. They need a lot more ignition in them to showcase higher performance levels. And this ignition in them is fuelled by glycogen, a nutrient derived from synthesizing carbohydrates. 


Glycogen has been an essential nutrient to aid endurance and post-workout recovery. However, all types of carbohydrates or not create glycogen in the body. 

To get optimum results, it is vital to input the right kinds of carbohydrates into your diet at the right time. Complex carbohydrates in your diet can provide long-lasting energy. This energy can be used for extensive exercising activities such as cycling, swimming, running, and high-intensity training. Most carbs supplements circulated in the market are not as nutritionally valuable for the body. 

So, here is a detailed guide on carbohydrate supplements to help you understand how they can help you maximize your training and performance level.

Things you’ll learn from this article

  • What are carbohydrates?
  • How do carbohydrates help athletes?
  • What are the nutritional differences between simple and complex carbohydrates?
  • Complex carbohydrates for endurance athletes
  • The benefits of carbohydrate supplements
  • The different types of carbohydrate supplements
  • Should athletes use carbohydrates supplements? 

What are Carbohydrates?

Our body primarily receives energy from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates stored in the body are known as glycogen. The glycogen stored in the body is easily accessible to form power. When you train or exercise, glycogen is utilized as the chief source to generate energy. 

You can include carbs in your diet like sugar, starch, and fibers. When the synthesized glycogen remains unused, it gets stored in the body as fat for future energy reserve. 

How do carbohydrates help athletes? 

Glycogen acts as the primary source to fuel energy demand during long and intensive training and moderate exercise. Depletion of glycogen in the body can cause fatigue during endurance training. To initiate muscle repair and adaptation, it is crucial to replenish the glycogen stores in the body. During high-intensity training, carbohydrates are used within pre, intra, and post-workout nutrition strategy to restore your endurance and recovery capacity. 

The carbohydrate requirement of the body depends on the intensity and longevity of your exercise and training activities. The higher the intensity level the more carbohydrates and glycogen will use to form energy. 

Muscle glycogen can be exhausted within two 2 to 3 hours of exercise. But liver glycogen can be used for 15 hours even when fasting. Hence consuming the right amount of carbohydrates can delay the onset of muscle fatigue in athletes. 

What are the nutritional differences between simple and complex carbohydrates? 

To understand the difference between the variety of carbohydrates sports supplements, you must first understand the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. All carbohydrate-based sports nutrition supplements get converted to glycogen to provide different quality and duration of energy. 

Simple Carbohydrates

  • Broken down into two distinct categories glucose and fructose
  • Glucose act as the mean energy source for the brain
  • Too many simple carbohydrates can raise the blood sugar level
  • Excess glucose gets stored as body fat
  • Fast-acting carbs supplements contain glucose, ranking them high on the glycemic index. 
  • Risk type 2 diabetes

Complex Carbohydrates

  • Available as starch or fiber in the diet
  • Slower digested than simple carbohydrates
  • Found in healthier food such as whole grains like oats, legumes, starchy vegetables, and fruits, etc.
  • Do not spike the blood sugar level
  • Better suited for weight loss
  • Removes cholesterol
  • The slow digestion process, hence, does not encourage a large appetite

Complex carbohydrates for endurance athletes

Complex carbohydrates can also produce glycogen when broken down by the body. But the digestion process is much slower. Complex carbohydrates are nutritionally more beneficial than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates do not pose as any risk to the body as simple carbohydrates. 

The majority of available carbohydrate food supplements contain more simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Most supplements are made with cheaper ingredients. This, in turn, provides suboptimal nutrition for athletes

The simple carbohydrates in these supplements provide fast-acting energy but also find the insulin level in the body which can result in fluctuating blood sugar levels. Too much use of carbohydrate supplements attributes to feeling tired and lethargic. 

Improper use of Carbohydrate supplements can cause more harm than benefit. 

The benefits of Carbohydrate Supplements

  • Improve energy and endurance level

Glycogen is the primary source for the proper functioning of the brain and it provides energy to the body. Lack of carbohydrates in the body can make you feel droopy, tired, slow mental processing, lower focus, etc. It will also lower energy levels in the body. It might restrict your performance as an athlete. Complex carbohydrates supplements can prolong workout performance and provide muscle endurance as well. 

  • Optimizers workout recovery

A high-intensity workout regime depletes the glycogen stored in the body. Low levels of glycogen in the body can result in poor performance during training sessions and workouts. Studies and research have shown glycogen mixed with protein can help in post-workout recovery. 

  • Builds more muscle mass

It is a well-known fact that protein helps in building muscle mass. But it is a lesser-known fact that complex carbohydrates are needed with protein to build powerful muscle mass. Amino acids from protein and glycogen from carbohydrates are essential post-workout nutrition to optimize recovery and build more muscle. 

The different types of simple carbohydrate supplements

  1. Maltodextrin
  2. Waxy Maize
  3. Dextrose
  4. Highly branched cluster dextrin/ cyclic dextrin 

Should athletes use carbohydrates supplements? 

Now after getting substantial knowledge about carbohydrates supplements, the question comes, should athletes use carbohydrate supplements? 

Well, the answer is yes but only under two conditions- 

  1. Yes for an endurance athlete
  2. Yes to gain strength and meet macronutrient goals

All in all, it is better to include complex carbohydrates in your diet through real natural food such as yams, oats, blueberries, sweet potatoes, etc. Natural sources of complex carbohydrates can provide long-lasting energy without fluctuating your blood sugar level and initiating fat storage in the body. 

Remember, carbohydrate supplements can be a tricky ride! You should incorporate carb supplements into your diet only after consulting your nutritionist and dietitian.

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