Brought to you by the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University.
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    This page is meant to be a general guide to nutrition for the promotion of  health and fitness.  This information on this page is not meant to give specific individual dietary recommendations but general guidelines for a healthy diet.


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    Carbohydrates are the primary fuel for your muscles and the brain.   Eating a high carbohydrate diet will ensure maintenance of muscle and liver glycogen (storage forms of carbohydrate), improve performance and delay fatigue.

Simple and Complex

   Any type of carbohydrate eaten is metabolized into glucose.   However, there are different types of carbohydrate.  Simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides and disaccharides.  These contain one or two sugar molecules and taste very sweet.  Examples of simple sugars are glucose, fructose galactose (monosaccharides) and sucrose, lactose and corn syrup (disaccharides).  Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars.  Plants store complex carbohydrates as starch and animals store them as glycogen in the muscles and liver.  Examples of foods that contain large amounts of complex carbohydrate include potatoes, rice and bread.   Complex carbohydrates are burned as energy or stored in the liver and skeletal muscles for future use during activity.  Glucose polymers are another type of carbohydrate that is used in sports drinks.  Glucose polymers are a 5 glucose chain sugar that is not as sweet as sucrose or corn syrup that is commonly found in cola type drinks.  These glucose polymers provide a greater amount of energy without being too sweet.

Carbohydrates and Training

    It is important to remember that carbohydrates are the body's primary energy source.  Unfortunately, carbohydrates are not stored at inexhaustible amounts.  A 150 pound man has about 1800 calories of carbohydrate in the liver, blood and muscles.  The amount of glycogen that a person has will determine how long that they can maintain exercise.  When glycogen levels get depleted the ability to exercise decreases.  Many people term this as "hitting the wall", "crashing" or "bonking".  With training and proper diet the muscles can develop the ability to store more glycogen than an untrained individual.

    This is not just important for endurance training individual.   The need for muscle glycogen has a sparing effect on protein which is important for strength training individual.  If an active individual does not eat enough carbohydrate the body can begin to use a less efficient fuel for energy, protein.  By consuming adequate carbohydrate, protein will not be sacrificed to be used as fuel and can be used for tissue growth and repair.

Sources and Recommendations

   Carbohydrates are found in breads, cereal, rice, pasta, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and milk.  The Food Guide Pyramid recommends 6-11 servings of breads, cereal, rice and pasta group to ensure adequate complex carbohydrate intake.  This should constitute 55-65% of your total caloric intake.  Active healthy adults on average need to consume approximately  8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight.  Since carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram many people think that they can eat as many carbohydrates as they want.  This is not true.  Remember, calories still count. Fat free products are not calorie free.

This is an example of a 2000 kilocalorie diet.  The complex carbohydrates are green and the simple carbohydrates are blue.


1 C cereal  

1 C milk 

2 slices wheat bread 

1 tsp butter 

4 tsp jam 

1 C juice



3 oz grilled/baked chicken or fish 

1 C pasta w/ marinara sauce 

1/2 C vegetables 

1 C tossed salad w/ 1 Tbs dressing 

1 piece fruit or 1/2 C sliced fruit 

1 C milk 

1 C juice



3 oz lean meat choice 

1 C rice or potato 

1 dinner roll or slice of wheat bread 

1 tsp butter 

1/2 C vegetables 

1 C frozen yogurt w/ 1/2 C fruit  

1 C milk


Go to The Exercise and Physical Fitness Home Page

The Exercise and Physical Fitness Web Page is an ongoing project by graduate students in the Master of Science program in Exercise Science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Georgia State University. This project was created by J. Andrew Doyle, PhD, and was last modified on: April 27, 1999.