I have many athlete friends who are competing for international competitions. Many of them have seen the advantages of a vegetarian diet. But their coach has the impression that vegetarians have wobbly legs and are not very strong. For him, nothing beats the energy derived from meat. He thinks vegetarian athletes would definitely fare less in competitions than if they are carnivorous.

But what does an athlete need to compete at a high level of performance?  He needs determination – he wouldn’t do well without it. Of coarse, proper training is indispensable. But without the right amount of energy, all these are meaning less.

We’ve learned of many different ways by which we can attain a high energy level; we’re also told to do the dos and don’ts of proper nutrition. Now, we can believe everything we hear – the nest is to objectively know how carbohydrates fuel the athlete’s body with loads of energy.

We are talking about two basics types of carbohydrates; starches (complex carbohydrates) and sugars (simple carbohydrates). “Blood sugar” or glucose comes from simple carbohydrates. This kind of sugar circulates in our body and supplies it with energy. Starch is the most common carbohydrates. It is made up of hundreds of chains of glucose units. Starch provides a longer-lasting source of energy, since it has to be broken sown before the body can utilizes it.

Glycogen is the result when the body converts simple and complex carbohydrates. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and the liver as energy reserve. Carbohydrates – simple or complex – basically provide energy, but it is more advisable to eat foods rich in complex carbohydrates. Such carbohydrates don’t cause a sudden shoot up of energy like simple carbohydrates, which leaves us with an energy slam.

Aside from being an excellent source of dietary fiber, complex carbohydrates usually contain large amounts of essential nutrients. Root crops like potatoes, sweet potato, cassava, ube, bean sprouts, whole grain breads and cereals, pasta are example of such carbohydrates. Suger foods only provide excess calories and leave you feeling listless later on.

Athletes interested in being vegetarians may wonder when it is the best time to eat to have more energy. Studies made at the University of Texas Exercise Science labs show that our bodies uses carbohydrates most effectively within two hours after a work-out. John Ivy suggest that the best way to fight fatigue and still feed the muscles is to eat a protein and carbohydrates meal shortly after exercising, this will maximize the absorption of essential nutrients.

Carbo-loading is commonly known to athletes. The theory behind it is that by “starving” skeletal muscles of their primary source of energy (glycogen) for a few days-by eating high carbohydrates food in much smaller amounts than normal and increasing exercise – you can coax the muscles into soaking up glycogen when foods high in carbohydrates are eaten shortly before competition. According to research, a meal heavy in carbohydrates can boost muscles glycogen by nearly 80% and enhance endurance, if not speed.

A typical carbo-load diet reduces one’s intake of complex carbohydrates by about 40%-60% and adds more protein, fats (from beans, nuts, and dairy products), and fruits. Then two or three days before competition, one must increase his complex carbohydrates to 70%-75% of his diet, and eat at least three big meals of carbohydrates, with some proteins and fats.

Doing this increases the stored glycogen in the liver and muscles. Then the body can easily retrieve the stored glycogen, which it converts to energy. Glycogen is burned first for energy, and then if more is needed, the fats are used. If there is low body fat, proteins in tissues are tapped to provide energy.

With the carbo-loading diet, some athletes report an increase in their sexual energy and a good feeling known as “runner’s high”. So, who says vegetarians have wobbly legs? In fact Mr. Coach, I have two vegetarian friends excelling in international competitions; one of them has been a vegetarian since birth.

Thanks to Marilitz’s thoughts.

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