Carbohydrate: Premium Fuel for Sports Performance

By Shonda Brown, RD, CNSC, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Carbohydrates have received a bad rap as low carb diets gained in popularity and other fad diets advertized messages of “good” and “bad” carbs. However, carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source for exercising muscles and provides two thirds or more of the energy source during intense exercise.

CHOC Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services

Carbohydrate rich foods include: breads, cereals, pasta, potatoes, fruit, and dairy as well as honey, jam and sweets. An athlete needs carbohydrate to store energy in preparation for exercise, to provide an exogenous fuel source during exercise and to maximize recovery after exercise. The source of carbohydrate is not as important as the amount and the time which ingestion occurs. Check out the following guidelines:


Athletes should consume 200-300 grams of carbohydrate 3-4 hours prior to exercise or competition. An example would be four pieces of French toast with berries and syrup, and 12 ounces orange juice or 1 ½ cups pasta with meat sauce, 1-2 breadsticks, 1 cup fruit salad drizzled with honey, and 16 ounces low-fat milk.


During intense exercise or activity lasting longer than 60 minutes, a sports beverage containing approximately 15 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces should be consumed at regular intervals. This keeps blood glucose (sugar) available for the working muscles and can delay fatigue, allowing an athlete to exercise longer and harder.


After exercise, it is important to refuel with carbohydrate within the first 30 minutes to maximize carbohydrate storage in the muscles. It can also help decrease muscle protein breakdown. Anything portable and easy will do. Some examples include chocolate milk, granola bar and fig bars.

It can be a challenge for an athlete to consume the amount of carbohydrate needed for optimum performance. Some tips to increase carbohydrate intake are drizzling honey over cereal, fruit or yogurt; spreading jam on toast or crackers; adding fruit to cereal, yogurt or pancakes; and packing dried fruit, trail mix, or pretzels as a quick snack.

Learn more about CHOC Children’s Clinical Nutrition and Lactation Services.

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Have a Fun and Safe Time on the Slopes

With abundant fresh snow on our local mountain tops, many children and families will be hitting the slopes to ski or snowboard this season.

Common injuries for snowboarding and skiing enthusiasts include forearm, wrist, shoulder, knee and ankle injuries, ranging from sprains to fractures. Dr. Francois D. Lalonde, orthopaedic surgeon at CHOC Children’s, recommends the following tips to prevent you and your children from injury while enjoying the winter fun.

  • Stretch and warm up:  Proper conditioning can minimize the risk of injury and optimize performance. Make sure you and your children are warmed up. This can be as simple as walking, marching in one place, or doing a few jumping jacks.
  • Use proper safety gear:  The lack of proper gear is a common factor in sports injuries. Make sure your children use a helmet, wrist and elbow guards, knee pads, googles, boots, and the appropriate snowboard or skis. 
  • Dress appropriately:  Make sure your family is wearing the right amount of layers to match the weather and each person’s activity level. Wear a hat or helmet liner and gloves. Also, be sure to wear sun protection, even on cloudy days! 
  • Get proper instruction: Take a lesson from a qualified instructor before you hit the slopes. Ensure that your children know how to properly use the equipment.
  • Follow the rules:  Children should be supervised at all times. Make sure your family understands and obeys posted warning signs. Avoid icy slopes. Do not go off-trail.
  • Ski or snowboard with a friend:  Pre-arrange a meeting place in case you get separated. Use walkie-talkies if possible. Make sure your children have the name and phone number of your hotel.
  • Take a break:  Like any other sport, lots of energy is being used while gliding through the slopes. Take a moment to rest. While resting, make sure you have something to eat or drink.

April is Sports Safety Month!

Like all fun-loving bears, I enjoy a good game of baseball during Springtime! Of course, we always need to play safe and avoid injuries. Did you know that with proper equipment and extra attention to stretching and conditioning, many injuries can be prevented? Dr. John Schlechter a specialist with the CHOC Children’s Orthopaedic Institute, sent me the following tips to share with parents to help keep children safe.

Head Injuries: To prevent severe head injury, the use of a helmet during batting is required. To ensure a proper fit, the circumference of your child’s head in centimeters should be measured and compared with the size listed on the helmet. Be sure the helmet fits your child’s head snugly. It should be level, with two fingers’ width of space between the eyebrow and helmet. Never purchase an oversized helmet in hopes your child will grow into it.

Playing Fields: Level playing fields free of debris and severe irregularities are essential to prevent falls and lower extremity injuries. Break away or detachable bases should be installed to prevent foot and ankle injuries.

Pitcher Position: The shoulder and elbow of a thrower/pitcher is at risk for an injury if insufficient stretching, warm-up or improper mechanics, and overuse occurs. Using proper technique and limiting pitch count and the type of pitch thrown can dramatically decrease the risk that your child could suffer from an injury. Thanks to the work performed at the American Sports Medicine Institute, guidelines for age- based pitch counts and pitch type have been developed and should be implemented and followed in your local league. For more information, visit