Written By: Heather Gerrish, RDN
Although carbohydrates are part of our favorite 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein and fat) and are not at all “bad” or malicious as they are brought to be in today’s society, sometimes you need to switch things up!
Reviewing our macronutrients again (and don’t be shy about referring to prior blogs for excellent learning opportunities and a more in depth discussion on micro and macronutrients!) let’s talk about WHY carbohydrates are important before we dive into the topic of swapping them out for another macro.
Carbohydrates are SO important for maintaining energy levels, recovery and not to mention, the preferred fuel source of your brain - so, with that in mind, carbohydrates should not be labeled as “bad” or neglected in a sad corner, they should be brought forth, celebrated and incorporated into any athlete’s well rounded diet.
Going into this blog with that mindset is important because we all too often negotiate with ourselves that carbohydrates should be restricted, or dare say, eliminated to lose weight. And while in the short term this might be somewhat effective, the long term sustainability (another one of my favorite words) this is not feasible and in real life we eat carbohydrates to fuel active bodies and minds!
Ok, now that you have that under your belt we can take on the main topic of this blog: Carbohydrate Swaps!
Some basic tools to take with you and apply to your meals and snacks when you are looking to modify your plate and macronutrient distribution ever so slightly (or maybe you just need to change things up!) is just what this blog is for so sit back, read on and try out something new!
Breakfast is an important meal to consider in terms of macronutrients, and depending on your plans for the day this meal could need more of an emphasis on carbohydrates than others. Specifically, if you are headed off to school (brain power) or you are using this as your pre workout fuel for an early morning training session. Lunch is also another important meal to consider when modifying carbohydrate intake if you prefer training in the afternoon, specifically if you are fueling up for a longer duration workout. This also goes for dinner if you are a late night trainer or have a longer event and need an additional source of fuel later in the evening. Carbohydrates are important, and everyone is different - so, considering this variety and uniqueness make sure to plan accordingly and implement new structure to see what works best!
Thinking about your total meal, it’s flavor and variety, how it will fuel your body to perform and stay focused through that morning slump, what are it’s components? What are the major sources of carbohydrates and their respective portions?
Having the details in mind (but not overthinking!) think about how and why you are planning to change up your carb ratio. Once you have this down, it’s on to the good stuff!
Let’s review an example of some of the swaps that could be implemented for breakfast and lunch:
Breakfast (carbohydrate focus, fueling/pre-workout): 2 pieces whole grain toast, 1 whole egg, spinach, low sodium turkey bacon and 1 medium apple with 8 oz 1% milk.
This meal provides a good source of carbohydrates, protein and focuses on incorporating a source of fruit (fiber!) and vitamin D and calcium (milk!).
Breakfast Alternative (lower carbohydrate focus): 2 scrambled egg omelet with low sodium turkey bacon and spinach, mushrooms and feta cheese, 8 oz 1% milk.
Increasing the focus on protein and focusing on the volume of this meal by incorporating more vegetables as well as keeping the great source of calcium in milk and cheese, you have a lower carbohydrate option but still a meal that will keep you fueled and focused!
Lunch (carbohydrate focus, fueling/pre-workout or recovery): ¾ cup quinoa chicken and cranberry grain salad, 1 medium pear, 16 oz strawberry infused water
Excellent incorporation of whole grains, protein and variety + hydration with a hint of flavor. Perfect for a pre workout meal if you are planning an afternoon/evening workout or a post workout recovery meal (carb + protein)
Lunch Alternative (lower carbohydrate focus): ¼ cup quinoa and cranberry grain salad + 3 oz grilled chicken breast, ½ pear with 1 oz almonds, 16 oz strawberry infused water
A slight variation, this time modifying portion sizes and increasing the serving of protein + adding in another macronutrient focus (fat; almonds) and additional protein. Maintaining the emphasis on hydration with a twist, this meal incorporates all macronutrients but just in different ratios.
With these examples in mind, consider first how your nutrition practice will be involved with this change - are you modifying your carbohydrate ratio for fueling purposes or because of another underlying cause? It’s important to consider how your emotions, society and messages from others but also ensure that you are using critical thinking to make informed decisions. You are in charge of your own health and how you fuel your body, and using the tools and knowledge available to you to best create a practice that is inline with your goals and health is essential!
Ultimately, you are in control of your nutrition and as an athlete this is a major component related to performance. How will you maximize your nutrition practice to inspire and fuel your training?