Carbohydrates for Performance

Hi Hazel! One Q about carbs for sports: I’m gently getting back into being more active (swimming, walking and wanting to add in cycling – not too fast!). I listened to a talk recently on sports nutrition (v outdated info!, and not in line with the mostly raw vegan cleanse that I’m following) but it does seem that carbs before and after aerobic exercise are a good idea. But what kind of carbs? Any fruit/veggie? Or more starchy carbs? Is there a difference to the carbs (type and quanitity) we need when we’re sporting to the carbs we eat normally? So many juicy questions, which I’d love to find the answers to!

Also, what would you recommend instead of say quinoa or even sweet potatoes? One of my friends cannot eat any starchy carbs. I’d like to help her to address this at the root – and work on improving her gut health. But I’d like to give her some alternatives in the mean time… With much gratitude if you can point me in the right direction. X Su

Hi Su

Thanks for your great question, carbohydrates are the macronutrient that we need for energy, but with so much choice its important to understand the effect that different types have on the body. The basis of any diet but especially when improving performance is to emphasise nutrient dense, easy to digest foods in place of foods that contain little nutrition and are hard to digest.

There are two types of carbohydrates.

  • Simple carbohydrates which are the sugars namely glucose and fructose (found in fruits and vegetables) and galactose (found in soured milk products). These are easily digested and enter the blood stream quickly so they are often called fast-releasing carbohydrates.
  • Complex carbohydrates are the starches. They take longer to break down and digest. Grains, legumes and root vegetables are examples.

In the right form at the right time, sugar is an essential functional fuel pre and post exercise. Before exercise you need to ensure there is enough sugar in the bloodstream and this is especially important if exercising in the morning after fasting overnight. After exercise, it is essential to replenish muscle glyclogen (where sugar is stored) within 20 minutes before having a higher protein meal at around 60 minutes.

So when exercising, the fruits that you may have been avoiding due to their high sugar content become your best friend. The best ones are dates, bananas and apricots. They are also great fruits to carry with you if you are exercising for longer than an hour.

I would recommend a pre-workout smoothie which has a a mix of fast releasing carbohydrates such as a date and banana together with slow releasing carbohydrates eg gluten free oats, with a little protein and essential fatty acids like nuts and seeds. Almond nut butter and hemp seeds are easy nourishing options.

Good clean burning starchy carbohydrates are sweet potatoes, squash, quinoa, wild rice, brown basmati rice and buckwheat so at other meals I would emphasise these instead of wheat based products or try spelt as a gentler alternative to wheat and use oat cakes and rye bread.

If you have low blood sugar issues due to adrenal fatigue and are just starting to increase your exercise levels, I would recommend this simple home testing to measure your blood sugar so that you can be sure your body is being fuelled properly. We hear so much about high blood sugar issues resulting in Type II diabetes, but I often find that clients are running on too little sugar due to limiting carbohydrates in the diet rather than emphasising the good carbohydrates eaten at the right time.

With regards to your friend, you are right to concentrate on her digestive health as being unable to split the starches or polysaccharides (ie many sugars) into simple sugars for absorption can result in fermentation causing gas, bloating and gurgling. She should avoid starch to give the digestive system time to recover, once rested and repaired she should be able to introduce them again with the exception of gluten. Broadly, the non starchy vegetables to focus on are those that grow above ground. She may have to be careful with fruit if there is fermentation present. I have developed a two week “Love Your Guts” plan aimed as a jump start for anyone with digestive issues which avoids starches and high FODMAP foods with gut healing recipes which may be helpful for her.

Measuring Your Blood Sugar

Measuring your blood sugar will enable you to get the inside scoop on managing the intricacies of your unique blood sugar responses to foods throughout the day, and will enable fine tuning of your macro nutrient needs (proteins, fats and carbohydrates).


One Touch and Bayer are two good brands for their technology, accuracy and ease of use (I use the Breeze2 by Bayer). When ordering be sure to get the Blood Glucose Monitor, Lancing Device, Lancets, and Testing Strips specific to your monitor.

Instructions for Testing

When you take a blood test it will reflect your blood glucose at that moment.

Wash your hands with soap and water before taking a blood test. This is not just to ensure hygiene but to ensure there is no sugar on your fingers giving a false high reading. Use warm water if your fingers are cold.

You can use the same lancet for a day’s blood tests assuming that your fingers are clean.

If you prick the sides of your fingertips, your sensitivity will be less affected, which may be important if you play an instrument or tend to type a lot. Avoid pricking your thumbs and right index finger (or left if you are left-handed).

Ideal Schedule for Measuring Blood Glucose with Functional Ranges:

  • Immediately after waking up in the morning (ideal range 78-88mg/DL or 4.4-5mmol/L)

  • 40 minutes after breakfast (ideal range <135mg/DL or <7.5mmol/L)

  • 40 minutes after lunch (ideal range <135mg/DL or <7.5mmol/L)

  • 20 minutes before dinner (ideal range if no more than 2 hours since last eaten 78-88mg/DL or 4.4-5mmol/L)

  • Just before bed (ideal range if no more than 2 hours since last eaten 78-88mg/DL or 4.4-5mmol/L)

Its best to monitor for 5 consecutive days and keep a food/sleep diary at the same time.  Please do not hesitate to contact me for further advice and support.

Please note this information is intended to help you learn more about your own body and health but it should not be considered medical advice.  If you have any concerns and particularly if your blood sugar is high please see your doctor.

How well do you know your body?

It may seem like an odd question to ask, but your body communicates through signs and symptoms. It can mumble and grumble if you haven’t paid attention to it so the odd twinge is usual, but I would encourage you to take a good look at yourself naked and get to know your lumps and bumps. Why? Let me tell you about a client who I’ll call Jane.

Jane came to see me this summer as she knew she wasn’t eating well. We came up with a plan which reignited her enthusiasm for eating healthily and as she had been experiencing some stress I suggested that she came back the following week for an abdominal massage. She lay on the couch ready for the massage, and just looking at her tummy visually gave me cause for concern. Jane is very slim but the lower part of her abdomen was noticeably raised. The abdomen should be soft when lying down relaxed, but Jane’s was swollen and hard. I expected it to sound full of air, but it sounded dense and full. I asked if she experienced any urinary problems and she admitted that she was going to the bathroom about 7 times a night. The lower abdomen contains the bowels, reproductive organs and bladder, so the pressure in that small space would cause frequent urination. Her periods had recently stopped otherwise I would have suspected they would be problematic.

I have examined many bellies during my 10 years as a colon hydrotherapist and my instinct told me there was a problem. I suggested she saw her doctor at her earliest convenience for a professional opinion and wrote a letter for the GP with my findings. The doctor was very grateful for the referral and made an appointment for an ultrasound within the next few days, so I realised that my hunch was right and it was serious. A few weeks later she was booked in for an operation to remove a large cyst. As the cyst was 20cm long and in an awkward place, Jane ended up having a complete hysterectomy and multiple biopsies taken. Thankfully she heard yesterday that the biopsies were clear, and she is making a good recovery from the surgery.

As the saying goes, one body, one life, so please look after it and seek professional advice if you have any concerns. The following video gives and explanation of what is where in the abdomen so that you can understand your inner workings.

Chocolate that does you good!

This is an exciting but busy time of year.  Not only do our bodies have to adjust to the colder weather, but time seems to speed up with all the Christmas preparations and socialising.  I love the saying “90% of what you eat should be good for your body, and 10% should be good for your soul”.  An 80/20 split might seem more achievable but it can be easy to go way beyond with so much temptation.  The remedy?  A good stock of superfood chocolate which contains the right kind of sugars (polysaccharides) and negligible levels of stimulants, is packed full of immune supporting goodness, and slow release energy.


4oz coconut butter, 4oz cacao butter, 4oz goji berries, 1oz bee pollen, 7oz Super Smoothie mix (from, pinch of sea salt.