Carbohydrates for physical activity: A strategy to avoid undesirable health consequences

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Intake of carbohydrates above the dietary guidelines to support performance of physical activity is common but may be unnecessary and counterproductive. Sports nutrition guidelines have not been designed to incorporate characteristics that may make high carbohydrate consumption a source of metabolic stress that may increase oxidative stress, inflammation, and lipogenesis. This metabolic stress is linked to the physiology underlying the development of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular diseases. This review describes research-based evidence to aid in bridging the gap between dietary guidelines for overall health and those to support physical activity. Characteristics that increase the likelihood of metabolic stress resulting from carbohydrate intake include overweight and obesity, central/visceral adiposity, older age, sedentary lifestyle, and caloric state. Carbohydrate-based foods that provide the most health benefits are whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Carbohydrate-based foods that most readily elicit metabolic stress are those with added sugars and refined grains or that have a high glycemic index. A checklist that incorporates both the number of these characteristics and prevailing guidelines for nutrition and physical activity is presented. This may be useful in determining whether additional carbohydrates are needed to support the physical activity level of the individual.



Health sciences


Miles MP. Carbohydrates for physical activity: A strategy to avoid undesirable health consequences. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 6:121-132, 2012.
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