Sports Dietitian’s Kitchen Essentials for Athletes (Part 2 of 3) - 8 Carb Food Recommendations for Fuelling Success
Successful macro and calorie tracking requires the correct food supply to achieve success. However, many athletes get stuck not knowing what foods they should be eating to help them fuel for sporting success. Carbs are especially important because they are our primary fuel source - and will determine how well you perform in your sport.
In this blog post, you will learn about the main carb food staples I personally use on a regular basis to help me fuel up and achieve nutrition success so I can perform better. This will teach you about food choices you can start incorporating in your life to be more consistent with your nutrition plan - and hit yo carb needs!
The truth is that without having the right food on hand, following a nutrition plan becomes a lot harder. That is why I've decided to write a series of posts to show you the foods I use to personally hit my macros.
This week it's about carbs so I'm going to show you the carby foods that I personally use to help me fuel for success - in life, gym, and basketball. However, first let me give you a disclaimer. You don't have to eat the exact same things as me. You have your own nutrition plan so this is all just to give you some ideas and give you some direction.
No matter what level of sport you are in - whether you are competitive or more recreational such as a weekend warrior - carbs are important. Everyone can benefit from adequate carbs in their diet so don’t fear carbs and instead make friends with them.
So without further ado, let's show you my favourite carb foods….
1. Rolled Oats
The number one (and non-negotiable) carb food I always have in my house is the classic rolled oats (aka porridge). Not only are they a nutritious carbohydrate source but are also super versatile. I personally have them mainly as protein oats in the morning by adding a protein powder and some fruit for #micronutrients and extra healthy carbs. Oh and also I do enjoy making them a bit more indulgent by throwing in some choc chips for a flavour hit (flexible dieting for the win!).
Oats also provide you with a great dose of fibre which is great for maintaining good bowel health and gut health - underrated aspects of an athlete's health status. In fact, I often recommend oats for the athletes I coach as a cheap, healthy, and versatile carb staple to always have in the pantry.
Due to a lot of misinformation over the years, rice (especially white rice) has gained a reputation as being an unhealthy food and constantly demonised in the dieting space. However, this is all B.S. that you should stop believing….now!
Rice is another cheap and easy carb staple that any athlete can benefit from eating (albeit technically not as nutritious as oats). Many athletes have the belief that rice causes weight gain but this simply isn’t true. Calories in, calories out determines weight change - not single foods. Therefore, rice can easily fit your carb budget without any negative effects on your performance or health.
So I hope that from now on you are all for...rice rice baby! Unless you don't like the taste, then don’t. Simple.
3. Black Beans (or any other legume)
Legumes are a “combo food”- as in they have both carbs and a plant based protein. They are also as close to a nutrition powerhouse “superfood” as you’ll get due to the nutritional profile of the food and all the benefits it can provide as part of a regular diet. I personally use black beans the most currently, but any legumes will do so choose your favourite or simply alternate as desired.
My favourite ways to eat legumes is:
There's so many different ways for you to eat legumes but they're a fantastic way for you to get some good quality carbs in your diet that gives you all the fibre you could want. You can’t lose with including a bit more legumes in your diet (just be careful and ease into it unless you want to toot your day away).
4. Good Quality Protein Pasta
Another carb food that many fear is the humble bowl of pasta. Pasta, like rice, is seen as an unhealthy food to eat and blamed for weight gain. Like I said for rice, this is not true and you need to stop thinking this. Pasta is a super delicious way to hit your carb requirements so if you like pasta, have some pasta on hand for a carb rich fuelling meal.
However, like a lot of foods, not all sources are created equal. There are pasta types and products that are better than others and here they are:
So now it’s time to get back to eating pasta but just don’t over do it. If you’re like me then 1 bowl can quickly turn into a desire for another. Couple it with a filling protein and a side of vegetables to fill you up and prevent overeating.
Yes! Bread is ok. I eat bread. So do my clients. The simple fact is that bread is not the villain in your diet story and should be eaten guilt free if you like to eat bread. The main reason bread gets a bad rep is because it can be easy to overeat, the gluten-free myth (the misbelief that gluten is bad), and is associated with fast food such as burgers and hotdogs - but that just means you need to eat bread strategically and maintain caloric control.
In terms of what type of bread you should eat, honestly this is very much a personal choice. Technically a good quality, high fibre seeded bread is the best one to choose but if you really don’t like whole grain breads or you want variety then eating some white bread is A-OKAY! In fact, white bread is a sports nutrition staple for pre-game nutrition to optimise carb fuelling using an easily digestible food. At the end of the day, just know that bread is perfectly safe to eat and can help you maintain adequate carb intake - just make it fit your nutrition plan and macros.
Another carb food that I use on a regular basis is the good ol’ potato! For the sake of convenience and due to my busy lifestyle, I personally get a lower calorie pre-cut bag of potato to oven-bake but you can easily prep it all from scratch.
Despite popular belief, potatoes are NOT bad for you. Potatoes don’t cause weight gain. Potatoes aren’t the enemy. Potatoes are your friend. In fact, potatoes are actually quite nutritious and provide a whole bunch of nutrients which many athletes don’t know until I tell them. So eat your potatoes guilt free and enjoy the yummy carby goodness knowing it’s also helping you fuel and recover for your sport. Oh and keep in mind both white and sweet potatoes are very similar in calories and nutrition - so choose the one you prefer.
Oh honey, honey! Nectar of the...bees. And another staple of Aleksa the Sports Dietitian’s diet. Now keep in mind, unlike the previous choices, honey is more of a contextual carb food. I use it to provide myself with a quickly digestible carb before training and games or simply to sweeten foods such as oats (but of course I also eat it for a sweet treat because I can). Similarly to honey, jam is another such option that I mainly use for my peanut butter and jam (jelly) sandwiches - a staple sports nutrition food that I use on the regular. Both foods are not particularly “nutritious” but they are also not unhealthy as part of an overall balanced sports nutrition plan.
In case you are wondering, here are my favourite sports sandwich classics:
So if you like having sweet sandwiches or simply want to sweeten your meals, have some honey or jam on hand. Just don’t get too much of your daily carbs from honey and jam.
8. Sports Drinks
Finally we've got a very specific carbohydrate which is a sports nutrition staple - the classic sports drink. I use these very specifically for the purpose of hydration and fuelling during increased bouts of exercise or when I'm sweating more. I do not recommend you drink them as a standard drink throughout your day - stick to water for your main hydration needs.
Sports drink options include:
In sports drinks there isn’t really much nutrition outside of the carbohydrate and electrolytes the drinks provide so only use them in sporting situations for recovery, fuelling, and hydration. So if you engage in strenuous, glycogen depleting exercise then perhaps having some sports drinks on hand could be useful. Just remember that “food first” is the approach you should use first and supplement your needs with these drinks as needed. There are even sugar free versions if you just need electrolyte repletion and don’t need extra sugar.
So there you go. Now you know what foods I eat to hit my carb requirements. I hope this post has given you some fresh new ideas for your own diet and made macros a bit easier to understand and implement as an athlete.
I should give a very NOTABLE mention to fruit - another carb staple food. However, I feel most (if not all) athletes know that fruit is super duper healthy and a great way to fuel your needs in training and in sport, so I didn’t think I needed to go in-depth. However, in case you didn’t know that well now you do - so eat yo fruit everyday!
Feel free to tell me in the comments section, what is your favourite carby food/s. Mine would be potatoes and fruit - super versatile, tasty, and easy to prep.
Now it’s time for you to use this new knowledge and level up your food game even more and improve your fuelling.
Of course , if you want a sports dietitian to personally help you & work with you 1:1 to help you master your nutrition and get a handle over the flexible nutrition approach while providing more accountability and guidance...
I have a new 90-day nutrition program called the 90-Day Macro Sherpa program - which is a nutrition coaching experience designed to help kickstart your flexible nutrition lifestyle and show you how to harness it the right way.
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Stay safe and stay determined.
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Dietitian & Nutritionist. The aim of this blog is to provide value and spread quality evidence-based nutrition information to counter the BS floating around.