Good Carb, Bad Carb: A cricketers guide to carbohydrates
Pasta, vegetables and good old chips. Not all carbs are created equally, but carbs are a part of a cricketer's diet.
Even the nutrition experts can't agree on the best way for sports players to use carbs. Conflicting research, fad diets and the vested interests of food companies all make things very confusing.
So what do we know for sure about carbs and their influence on cricket performance?
- The carbohydrates you eat are broken down into blood sugar that provides fuel to both your brain and muscles.
- While this is the bodies preferred fuel it's not essential. If you don't eat carbs your body adapts and uses other sources (this is known as being ketogenic).
- Any carbs that are not used for energy are stored for later use as fat.
These three facts seem to me to be why there is so much carb confusion. The body likes the fuel but too many carbs can increase your body fat. How can carbs be both bad and good at the same time?
Some people propose we take the route of low to minimal carbs (most notably the Atkins diet). I have some sympathy with this approach but I feel the benefits of carbs outweigh the costs. You just have to be careful in the way you eat them:
- It depends where you get your carbs
- It depends when you eat your carbs
Starchy carbohydrates like bread, pasta or potatoes have been shown to significantly raise the levels of a hormone called insulin. One of the jobs of insulin is to help your body move energy around your body. If you need blood sugar in your muscles it will move it into your muscles. If your muscles are already full it moves it to fat cells. The more insulin resistant you are, the greater the effect.
On the other hand, fibrous carbs like fruit and vegetables are higher in fibre and have a much lower insulin response, especially when eaten with sources of fat and protein. They tend to be rich in important vitamins and other nutrients too.
This is where the timing of carbs becomes all important.
Starchy carbs are good for the period during and after exercise because the insulin transports energy to your muscles making you stronger and faster. At other times you can keep you carb intake up by eating plenty of fruit and vegetables.
This also means that carb loading on the night before or morning of a match is best avoided.
This is a simple and effective approach that I have used with a great deal of success myself. No wonder it's one of John Berardi's habits.