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February 02, 2023 7 min read

Carbs are the king of endurance performance nutrition


  • Endurance athletes (cyclists, runners & triathletes) require a high level of energy to perform, and carbohydrates are the best source of fuel for their bodies.
  • Carbohydrates are quickly digested and absorbed, broken down into glucose (sugar), which is then transported to the muscles and used as energy.
  • Endurance athletes require more carbohydrates than the average person, with the amount depending on several factors such as activity level, body weight, and exercise intensity and duration.
  • Authoritative sources suggest 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during endurance workouts. For ultra-endurance events, the recommendation is higher, around 90 g/h.
  • Taking on carbohydrates during exercise delivers rapid energy to the working muscles and prolongs endurance capacity.
  • Athletes seem to benefit from consuming 200 grams to 300 grams of carbohydrate glycogen 3-4 hours before training volume or event

Over the years I have competed in everything from high-intensity velodrome racing (30-60 minute races) to 12-day stage races and one-day ultra-endurance events (7-10 hours).

I have always found it easy to prepare for high intensity, however, 4+ hour events require more planning, team or family support, and food/nutrition preparation.

"Food is fuel, that is the one reason." -Cameron Hoffman

Athletic nutrition and performance go hand-in-hand. Endurance athletes, should focus on endurance sports nutrition; such as long-distance runners, cyclists, and swimmers, push their bodies to the limit. These athletes require a high level of energy to perform at their best, and carbs are the best source of fuel for their bodies.

Recommended Article: What limits the stamina and endurance of athletes

The Role of Carbohydrates in Energy Production

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat) that our bodies use as fuel. Carbs are quickly digested and absorbed. 

PubMed: The evidence overwhelmingly supports the inclusion of a moderate-to-high carbohydrate diet (i.e., ~ 60% of energy intake, 5-8 g·kg) to mitigate the negative effects of chronic, training-induced glycogen depletion.

They are broken down into glucose (sugar), which is then transported to the muscles and used as energy. During training workouts, the body uses glucose as its primary source of energy, and if glucose levels become depleted, the body will start to break down muscle tissue for fuel.


Running in the mountains

Why Endurance Athletes Need More Carbohydrates

Glucose (sugar carbs) must be maintained and preserved in the muscles

Endurance athletes require more carbohydrates than the average person. The longer the workout, the more glucose the body needs to produce energy.

Replacement of carbs should be made a high priority!

British Journal of Sports Medicine: Athletes seem to benefit from 200 g to 300 g of carbohydrates consumed 3–4 h before the athletic event. Pregame meal targets to prepare the athlete for the upcoming event, providing him with carbohydrates, electrolytes, and water.

Training Peaks: Taking on carbohydrates during exercise delivers rapid energy to the working muscles and prolongs your endurance capacity.

How Many Carbohydrates Do Endurance Athletes Need?

See chart for the best carbs for athletes.

Wikipedia ChartSugar content of selected common plant foods (in grams) 

Food item Carbohydrate, total, including dietary fiber Total sugars Free fructose Free glucose Sucrose Ratio of fructose/glucose Sucrose as proportion of total sugars (%)
Apple 13.8 10.4 5.9 2.4 2.1 2.0 19.9
Apricot 11.1 9.2 0.9 2.4 5.9 0.7 63.5
Banana 22.8 12.2 4.9 5.0 2.4 1.0 20.0
Fig, dried 63.9 47.9 22.9 24.8 0.9 0.93 0.15
Grapes 18.1 15.5 8.1 7.2 0.2 1.1 1
Navel orange 12.5 8.5 2.25 2.0 4.3 1.1 50.4
Peach 9.5 8.4 1.5
Pear 15.5 9.8 6.2 2.8 0.8 2.1 8.0
Pineapple 13.1 9.9 2.1 1.7 6.0 1.1 60.8
Plum 11.4 9.9 3.1 5.1 1.6 0.66 16.2


The amount of carbohydrates that endurance athletes need depends on several factors, including their level of activity, body weight, and the intensity and duration of their exercise. 

Potassium: The Mineral for Sports Performance

The American Dietetic Association recommends that endurance athletes consume 6-10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, a 160-pound athlete (72.6 kilograms) would need to consume between 441 and 726 grams of carbohydrates per day.

penne pasta carb loading

Other authoritative sources suggest 30-60 grams during endurance workouts.

BJSM: During exercise, athletes should consume 30–60 g of carbohydrates per hour (or 0.7 g/kg of body weight) in order to maintain blood glucose levels. This is of extreme importance when the event lasts more than an hour and it takes place in extreme environmental conditions (cold, heat, or high altitude).

This study regarding endurance athletes and carbs recommends higher intake during ultra events (2-3 hours+).

PubMed: A single carbohydrate source can be oxidized at rates up to approximately 60 g/h and this is the recommendation for exercise that is more prolonged (2–3 h). For ultra-endurance events, the recommendation is higher at approximately 90 g/h.

How many carbs should I take pre-workout?

Racing crit

A popular pre-race method is "carb loading"

Typically carb loading means consuming a load of complex carbs the night before. However, we have found carb loading starts 3-4 days in advance.

The timing of carb loading depends on the type and duration of the endurance event. In general, most endurance athletes start carb loading 3 to 4 days before the competition.

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For long-duration events, such as marathon or ironman triathlons, a longer carb loading period of 5 to 7 days may be appropriate. In these cases, the athlete gradually increases carbohydrate intake while reducing their training intensity.

Carbohydrate Loading Recommendation

Sports nutritionist recommendation is  3-4 grams of carbs per kg pre-workout workout.

USADA: Carbohydrate intake before and after exercise can help to restore sub-optimal glycogen stores, which is critical for prolonged periods of exercise. While allowing for personal preferences and physiological factors, the pre-event meal should be high in carbohydrates, non-greasy, and readily digestible.

The Best Sources of Carbohydrates for Endurance Athletes

Runnersworld: It’s true that not all carbs are created equal.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, are broken down quickly by the body and provide a rapid source of energy. Be careful as too much sugar without consistent training can quickly lead to weight gain.

Examples of simple carbohydrates include fructose, glucose, and sucrose.

Livestrong: Refined carbohydrates tend to provide high calorie counts but lack nutrient value. In other words, for the number calories consumed, your body receives little benefit.

Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates, also known as starch, are composed of long chains of glucose molecules. They are broken down more slowly by the body, providing a sustained source of energy over a longer period of time.

Examples of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, white rice, and pasta.

Here is a quick description of carb types:

  1. Simple sugars: These include glucose, fructose, and maltodextrin and are rapidly absorbed by the body, providing a quick burst of energy. Simple sugars are often found in sports drinks, gels, and gummies.
  2. Starchy complex carbohydrates: These include pasta, rice, potatoes, and bread and are a good source of sustained energy. These foods are slowly digested, providing a steady supply of energy over a longer period of time.
  3. Fruits: Fruits, such as bananas, grapes, and dates, are a good source of natural sugars and provide a quick source of energy during exercise. 10 Carbohydrate Sources for Triathletes

Recommended Article: Potassium the Mineral for Sports Performance

fruit plate carb loading

Of course, there are a number of gels, bars, and sports drinks that offer a range of carbs, electrolytes, and protein. Oftentimes, these packaged sports-specific products are easily digested and absorbed. It takes about 30-60 minutes for this energy to be available for your muscles to use.

Incorporating Carbs into a Endurance Peak Performance Diet

Utah crit racing

Endurance athletes should aim to consume carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise to ensure that their bodies have enough energy to perform at their best. 

Before exercise, athletes should eat a meal high in carbohydrates to top off their muscle glycogen stores. 

During endurance training, athletes should consume carbohydrates in the form of sports drinks or energy gels to maintain their glucose levels. 

After exercise, athletes should consume carbohydrates to replace the glycogen stores that were used during the workout.

PerformanceLab: the post-workout window requires carbohydrates that are quickly digested, absorbed, and transported in the blood to alter the hormonal milieu and enhance glycogen resynthesis, which is a key factor in recovery from strenuous exercise.

Ketogenic Diet for Endurance Athletes

The ketogenic diet involves high fat and low carbohydrate consumption.

Some research suggests improved endurance performance for certain athletes, while others indicate impaired performance in high-intensity activities that depend on glycogen.

Keto Lacks Glycogen

Endurance athletes may face difficulty in maintaining their performance on a ketogenic diet as it leads to reduced muscle glycogen.

The impact of a ketogenic diet on endurance athletes can vary based on individual factors such as training history, nutrient intake, and exercise intensity.

The ketogenic diet may be beneficial for some endurance athletes, but not all and more research is needed to understand its effects.

Post-Workout Carb Intake

What is the recommended amount of calories to consume immediately following exercise or training for an endurance athlete?

RunnersConnect: The best nutrients to consume during the 30 minute window immediately following prolonged exercise is a mix of carbohydrates and protein. You should aim to consume 100-300 calories.

After endurance exercise, training generally depletes muscle glycogen. To maximize glycogen restoration, athletes should consume 1.0-1.5 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight within 30 minutes after exercise.

For a 150-pound athlete, this equates to 68-102 g of carbohydrates, or 4.5-6.5 servings. This can be achieved through food or liquid or bar supplements.

The first 30 minutes after exercise provide an optimal opportunity for nutritional recovery due to increased blood flow and insulin sensitivity, which boosts glucose uptake and glycogen restoration.

Orthopedic Sports Medicine Institute: Try not to skip your post-workout meal/snack, as doing so habitually can end up sabotaging fitness goals that you’ve worked so hard to attain.

In the end, you need carbs and protein to keep your muscles moving

Carbohydrates are essential for energy production, and endurance athletes require more carbohydrates than the average person to fuel their bodies during exercise. 

Endurance athletes should focus on eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and should aim to consume carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise. By incorporating carbohydrates into their diets, endurance athletes can ensure that they have enough energy to perform at their best every time they compete.

Author -Cameron Hoffman

Beetroot Pro® is a beetroot extract designed for performance. The formula does not contain any beet fiber, however it includes BCAA, Magnesium, Potassium and Vitamin B12.


FDA Disclosure: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplement especially if you have any medical condition, pregnancy, breastfeeding or are on any medication.

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