You are here

The Crazy-Surprising Benefit of Carbs for Athletes

Going low-carb and skimping on rest and recovery could hurt your exercise performance.

Kicking your training up a notch can put you on the fast track to greater gains and exercise performance—but it can also really tucker you out. New research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences reveals intensive bouts of exercise can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get good quality sleep. But there is one thing that may help: don't nix the carbs. 

In the study, from Loughborough University, researchers studied the effects of two nine-day periods of heavy training on 13 expert-level male cyclists. The athletes’ mood, sleep patterns (via a wristwatch monitor), and performance (via VO2 max) were monitored and recorded throughout the study. The researchers also gave some of the athletes carbohydrate-rich beverages before and during exercise, followed by a high carbohydrate and protein recovery beverage 10 minutes post-training. Control athletes were provided with lower carbohydrate concentration beverages before, during, and after training to see whether diet countered the effects of sleep deprivation.

Healthy Food: The 10 Best Sources of Carbs >>>

The researchers discovered as little as nine days of intense training caused significant and progressive decline in sleep quality among the athletes, and their moods and capacity for exercise both deteriorated over the period of observation.

The cyclists spent more time in bed during the training period, but they didn’t log any more actual sleep; they woke up more frequently at night. They also experienced higher tension, anger, fatigue, confusion, depression and increased feelings and symptoms of stress as the training wore on.

As for the additional carbs, the team found the high carbohydrate intervention reduced some (they don’t specify which) of the effects of hard training, but not all. What’s more, the moderate-carb athletes recorded more sleep time, but the researchers believe this indicates higher levels of fatigue and a greater need for recovery when following that diet.

Bottom line for athletes: Don’t ditch the carbs and give yourself plenty of time for rest and recovery. There's your excuse to pencil some naps into your training regimen.

20 Reasons You Should Take a Nap >>>


Want more Men's Fitness?

Sign Up for our newsletters now.