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Sports Nutrition 101: The Best Sources of Carbohydrates


best sources of carbohydrates

What are the Best Vegetable Sources of Carbohydrates?

The first choice for endurance producing carbohydrates are going to come from starchy root vegetables. You may have been told to avoid potatoes if you were following a strict Paleo diet, but this is a mistake due to its nutritional profile and compliment to meat. One Yukon gold potato has 1600mg of potassium, 0.9mg of B6, 83.7mg of folate and magnesium, and .7mg of manganese. Make mashed potatoes with bone marrow, and you have a superfood. Your training and goals will dictate how if root vegetables play a large or small role in your diet.

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Yams
  • Squash
  • Yukon gold, fingerling or red potatoes
  • Taro root
  • Carrots
  • Beets

Add folate (aim for 400 mcg from all sources daily) and mineral rich green vegetables for healthy DNA, natural aromatase inhibitors (lowers high estrogen, beneficial to women and men) and preventing inflammation:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Parsley (aromatase inhibitor)
  • Collard greens
  • Broccoli

Add watery vegetables for electrolytes 

  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Zucchini

What are the Best Fruit Sources of Carbohydrates?

The best sources of fruit and anti-oxidants for athletes are going to come from:

  • Pomegranates for its high folate (107mcg), flavonoids, potassium, blood sugar lowering ability post-meal, prostate cancer prevention and treatment, inhibiting cartilage destruction in those with osteoarthritis, limit brain cell damage, protection against sun damage, ability to positively influence nitric oxide, prevent LDL oxidation and lower inflammation. One study found that pomegranate juice outperformed blueberry juice, red wine, vitamin C and synthetic vitamin E for quenching free radical damage inflicted upon cell membranes, while another study found that pomegranate helped reduce cellular oxygen radicals by 71%, while increasing cellular antioxidants by 141%. Grapefruit juice is known to inhibit CYP3A4 – and to a lesser extent so does pomegranate juice. Therefore you should be aware if you are taking any drugs that use this liver enzyme.
  • Apples due its high malic acid content. Malic acid has been found to increase carbohydrate reserves and decrease oxygen consumption by tissues, therefore increasing physical work capacity and endurance.
  • Oranges, grapefruit and lemons due to their vitamin C, electrolyte and aromatase inhibitor (anti-estrogenic compound helping prevent breast cancer and increase testosterone in males).
  • Watermelon due to its anti-inflammatory lycopene content, malic acid, potassium and hydration ability.
  • Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries and all other berries for their polyphenol, vitamin C and ellagic acid (anti-cancer) content.
  • Bananas due to their enzymes, potassium and necessity for delicious smoothies.

What About Grains for Carbohydrates?

If you believe that grains were not a part of the Paleolithic era, I have some news for you. It has been suggested that wild einkorn grain was harvested in the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic Ages, 16,000-15,000 BC. Thousands of fully mature small-grained wild grasses were retrieved at Ohalo II, a submerged 23,000 year old site at the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. There is also evidence of sorghum grain residues found on stone tools and African potato consumption at a site in Mozambique, Africa dating back to 103,000 B.C., and residues of 10 grass seed grains of triticeae – the family of wheat, rye and barley – and legumes in the teeth of Neanderthals in Belgium and Iraq who are believed to have lived 36,000-46,000 years ago.

That being said, the wheat today does not resemble the wheat of our ancestors and should be avoided when possible. Refined grains today are also often fortified with synthetic folic acid, which for people with a slow DHFR enzyme can potentially create cancerous conditions. Many grains are also a high source of polycystic aromatic hydrocarbons – a known carcinogen also in vegetable oils – that have increased due to our environment.

I advise athletes that need more calories and carbohydrates to utilize white rice, rice pasta, rice mochi, oats and organic corn. If a sandwich is the only way to pack an easy lunch, choose sourdough bread that uses a sourdough starter, not bakers yeast. Even better, look for a sourdough rye that doesn’t use wheat.

How Many Carbohydrates Should I Eat?


The amount of carbohydrates will vary greatly depending on your sport or activity. Five to ten grams per kg of body weight is a formula often used for serious athletes. An example would be a 70kg male would require 350 to 700 grams of carbohydrates. Power and strength sports will be on the lower end, while endurance sports may fall on the higher end. If you are like Michael Phelps and training 5 hours a day, 6 days a week, then you will be taking in 12,000 calories and taking a more extreme approach to carbohydrate consumption. I have had athletes that need 5,000-6,000 calories a day.

The one constant that stays the same with carbohydrates is increasing glycogen storage before an event, and replenishing glycogen after a workout, game or event. If you are a football player, runner or swimmer, your glycogen storage needs are going to be different than a golfer or baseball player.

General Fitness and Training

For general fitness and training of 3-5 days a week, I recommend 100-200 grams of carbohydrates for men and 75-150 grams for women.

Weight Loss

For weight loss, women should aim roughly for 75 grams of carbohydrates, and men 100 grams. Eliminate all grains and eat your last meal by 6:00pm at night. These numbers will of course vary based on activity level, height and weight.

Can You Be an Endurance Athlete and Follow a Low-Carbohydrate Diet?

Low carbohydrate diets can work by keeping your body in nutritional ketosis with a high fat diet. If you are interested in following this track, I would high recommend reading the book The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance

Bonus Mushrooms, Herbs and Spices


There are numerous benefits to mushrooms like oyster, maitake, shiitake, crimini, lion’s mane, white mushrooms, crimini and portobello, and should be included as often as possible. Herbs and spices have been found repeatedly in studies to provide protection against inflammation including ginger, fennel, anise, cumin, caraway and cardamom.


3 Responses to Sports Nutrition 101: The Best Sources of Carbohydrates

  • Alex,

    Again, thanks for all the great info on your site. I recently followed your advice from your electrolyte post during my tennis tournament and the results were positive.

    Concerning this post, I’m looking to start a low carb diet just to get leaner, particularly around the abdominal region, but I’m also playing competitive recreational singles tennis several times a week. From the post, it sounds to me that you’re saying it’s doable. So am I correct in thinking that on days that I would compete, I should eat enough carbs “through starchy tubers and fruits” to increase and replenish my glycogen storage, and on my off days (not competing/training) I can stick to my low carb diet?

    Also, you mentioned athletes on low carbs don’t eat enough fat. What ratio of carbs/protein/fat would you suggest then for athletes such as tennis players?

    • Hey Nick,

      Glad to hear it! Excess abdominal fat is often a result of too many flour based carbohydrates (bread, tortillas, crackers, chips etc.) and/or sugar. Yes, I do believe you can follow a guideline of lower carbs/higher fat on days you are not competing while keeping your energy high and burning fat. It takes time in the beginning for your body to shift to run on less carbohydrates, but your metabolism adjusts to burning more fat and it gets easier.

      In terms of a ratio for your fat loss goals as a tennis player, you will probably do best on a 40-50% fat, 20-30% carbohydrates and 30-40% protein. My approach is that the source of your carbohydrates is more important than the total amount. A sweet potato that contains numerous vitamins and minerals is going to be a more energy packed source than white pasta or bagels with higher carbs for example. If you eat dairy, grass-fed dairy is going be a great source of CLA which has been found to burn abdominal fat. So throw a nice dollop of butter on your sweet potato.

  • Yes ,” complex” carbs are the body’s main source of fuel not protein or fat , this is a scientific fact . Grains as the old saying goes are the” Staff of life” , maybe the most important food one can consume, you can live on them Matt 4 : 4[ NIV] bible .And speaking of the bible it’s interesting it backs up science of how important grains [ bread] are Zech 9 : 17[ NIV ]bible .

    Fruit is a” simple” carb also important , but again, the body is set up for” complex” carbs they are converted into glucose which every cell in the body needs . Potatoes are a starch not a carb , and vegetables are not considered carbs they are the Vit / min group.

    There are all kinds of grains rye , barley, spelt, etc , but there is still good wheat , just get organic and sprouted .

    It’s a” scientific fact” or basic principle you have to eat carbs with protein ie ; carb [ bread] with protein [ fish] or you will go into Ketosis [ an acidic blood Ph] and a host of health problems like gout , kidney, problems etc.

    There isn’t much truth out there today in any field as one of God’s great men predicted about 4000yrs ago for our modern times Isa 59 : 15[ NIV] bible . Remember what you don’t know or understand can ruin you Hos 4 : 6 NIV bible .

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