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
- Yukon gold, fingerling or red potatoes
- Taro root
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
- Parsley (aromatase inhibitor)
- Collard greens
Add watery vegetables for electrolytes
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.
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.