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Active people need their carbs, too

Don’t skimp on carbs if you are active.

Don’t skimp on carbs if you are active.

That message comes from Tristaca Caldwell, an expert in sports nutrition who is on hand to counsel athletes at the Canada Games in Halifax, on now until Feb. 27.

Although few of us need as much fuel as elite athletes, we should be conscious of what our bodies need based on activity level. A low-carb diet – avoiding bread, cereal, rice, pasta and potatoes – often strips weight, but may deprive muscles of fuel.

“If you are doing moderate to high intensity activities, your body relies mostly on carbohydrate and some fat to provide the energy it needs,” says Caldwell, a dietitian and owner of Fuelling with Food nutrition counseling in Halifax.

“Most of us have enough fat already stored, but we need to provide our bodies with carbs just before we exercise.” In the one-two hours before activity, aim for about 50-100 g carbs, she says. Her examples include a granola bar and a piece of fruit; whole grain toast with peanut butter and jam; a smoothie containing fruit, yogurt and milk; or a small bowl of cereal with milk.

After you exercise, you want to replace some of the carbs you burned and refuel for your workout the next day.

“Having even 5-10 g of protein following a workout is all most people need to make sure they maintain and build muscle mass. But in order to have this muscle-building effect, you need carbohydrates. Examples: chocolate milk, fruit and yogurt, or whole grain crackers and cheese."

Sports at the Canada Games include biathlon, curling, hockey, skiing, figure skating, and speed skating. Athletes there could be burning as many as 4,000 kcal per day.

“That requires a lot of eating to keep themselves fuelled,” says Caldwell.

Staying hydrated

There’s a lot of confusion about hydrating. If you work out for less than an hour, all you need to drink during your activity is water. If you exercise for more than an hour, you can avoid “hitting the wall” by having 500 ml of sports drink, water diluted with juice, or a sports gel product, says Caldwell.

Not sure if you’re getting enough liquid? Weigh yourself before and after a workout. “If you weigh more than 2 lbs less after a workout, you are not consuming enough liquid. Aim for about 2 cups of fluid per hour of activity,” says Caldwell.

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