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Factsheet: carbohydrates before exercise

Why should I eat carbohydrates before exercise?

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Written by: The Athlete’s FoodCoach, on 31-08-2023
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What are carbs?

Carbohydrates are one of the three main macro-nutrients (alongside proteins and fats) found in food. They play a crucial role in fueling various bodily functions, particularly providing energy for physical activity and supporting brain function. Carbohydrates are found in various forms, including sugars, starches, and dietary fiber. Roughly we divide them into two types of carbs: complex- and simple carbs.

Why do I need carbs before exercise?

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred and most efficient source of energy, especially for high-intensity or endurance activities like running and cycling. Benefits of fueling up with carbs before exercise are:

  1. Energy Fuel: Carbohydrates can converted into energy faster compared to fats. Consuming carbs before exercise ensures that your muscles have a readily available source of fuel to perform optimally.
  2. Glycogen Reserves: Carbs are stored in the body as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Adequate glycogen stores are crucial for maintaining endurance and delaying fatigue during long-duration workouts.
  3. Performance Enhancement: Carbohydrates enhance exercise performance by providing the energy needed for muscle contractions and sustained effort. Having enough energy readily available can lead to better performance outcomes.
  4. Blood Sugar Stability: Consuming carbs before exercise helps stabilize blood sugar levels, preventing sudden drops that can lead to fatigue, dizziness, and decreased performance.
  5. Mental Focus: Glucose, derived from carbohydrates, is the primary fuel for the brain. Consuming carbs helps maintain mental clarity and focus during your training.

How do I get my carb intake on point?

Timing is essential when consuming carbohydrates before exercise. Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack about 1-3 hours before your workout gives your body enough time to digest and convert the carbohydrates into usable energy. The recommended carb intake before exercise is 1-4 grams of carbs per kg body weight, dependent on the duration and intensity of your workout. Opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for sustained energy release.

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Martijn Redegeld - head of nutrition at Team Visma | Lease a Bike
“FoodCoach lets you make huge gains in recovery and carbohydrate intake.”


Incorporating carbohydrates into your pre-endurance exercise nutrition strategy can significantly impact your performance and overall workout experience. Carbohydrates provide the energy required to power through your training, maintain stable blood sugar levels, and delay the onset of fatigue. By consuming carbs before exercise, you ensure that your body has the necessary fuel to perform at its best and recover efficiently afterward. Remember that the right timing and type of carbohydrates can vary based on your individual needs, activity level, and preferences.

Putting it into practice!

If you want to work on your personal carb intake before exercise, check our app to support you in this!