Fuel your activity right with carbohydrates

Published 7:01 am Sunday, June 5, 2016

As the weather gets warmer, many of us head out to take part in local running or biking races, or just to have some active fun on our own or with our families.

To fuel up for these activities, it is important to eat foods that will help us do our best, whether for competition or just for fun.

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on the importance of protein for athletes and weekend warriors alike. Media and manufacturers have put the spotlight on high-protein diets, protein powders, sports bars with high levels of protein, as well as other foods with enhanced protein levels — granola with protein, protein pretzels and even potato chips with added protein. With all of this focus on protein, it can be easy to overlook a perhaps less-glamorous, but equally as important, nutrient — carbohydrate.

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Carbohydrates are the main and preferred source of energy for our bodies and brains. When we eat carbohydrates, such as those from whole grains, fruits and dairy, fuel is stored in our bodies in the form of a substance called glycogen. During physical activity, glycogen is then broken down to provide fuel for working muscles.

Carbohydrates are a unique and essential source of fuel during exercise because they are used during many different phases and types of activity. They are used during shorter duration high-intensity exercises such as sprints, jumping and throwing, as well as during endurance activities such as long-distance races.

Consuming adequate carbohydrates helps to optimize performance and delay fatigue, as well as to replenish glycogen stores after exercise.

As with choosing other types of food, quality is key for carbohydrates. If we want our bodies to perform at their best, we’ve got to choose the best fuels. For carbohydrates, this means focusing on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. These provide our bodies with fiber and essential vitamins and minerals.

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, are high in sugar but contain little if any essential vitamins and minerals. Examples of simple carbohydrates, which should be chosen in moderation, if at all, include soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, cookies and pastries. Simple carbohydrates are not the best choice to fuel sports activities.

Whole grains (think whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and oatmeal), fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy contain high-quality carbohydrates. Try this recipe for creamy blueberry-pecan overnight oatmeal — the perfect fuel for your next adventure.

Creamy Blueberry-Pecan Overnight Oatmeal

Serves 1 (about 1 cup)

All you need

•1/2 cup Hy-Vee old-fashioned rolled oats

•1/2 cup water

•Pinch of salt

•1/2 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

•2 tbsp Hy-Vee nonfat plain Greek yogurt

•1 tbsp toasted chopped pecans

•2 tsp pure maple syrup

All you do

1. Combine oats, water and salt in a jar or bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. In the morning, heat if desired, and top with blueberries, yogurt, pecans and syrup.

Source: adapted from EatingWell Inc.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.