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Best Carbohydrate Sources for Athletes and Runners

Carbohydrates are the most easily converted source of fuel for athletes.  In fact, most sports nutritionists recommend an athlete consume 50 – 70% of their calories from carbohydrate sources.  However, emerging research has shown that certain grains may not be best for our bodies, such as wheat.  Fortunately, there are many other nutritious sources of carbs, which are outlined below. 

SEE ALSO:  Carbo Loading:How To Carbo-Load Before A Race


Quinoa is a grain grown in South America that is packed with protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.  A half cup of cooked quinoa contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, which is similar to that of brown rice.  To prepare, cook quinoa in chicken or vegetable broth and substitute for rice or barley in recipes. 

Spelt is an ancient wheat-like grain that has a nuttier taste than all-purpose flour.  This grain has numerous health benefits and is a source of protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as manganese, phosphorous, zinc, and magnesium.  One cup of spelt flour has a whopping 122 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of protein.  Substitute spelt flour in your baking recipes. 


Bananas are a great portable snack for runners due to the electrolytes and carbohydrates they provide.  A single medium-sized banana contains 27 grams of carbohydrates, 422 mg of potassium, and 20% of your daily recommended amount of Vitamin B-6.  Slice a banana into your morning cereal, or eat as a snack paired with almond butter. 

Another low-calorie snack that is portable and nutritious is an apple.  A single apple contains only 95 calories but provides 25 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber.  Apples can serve as a snack when paired with protein-filled nut butters, or be the centerpiece of dessert when sliced over Greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. 


Sweet Potatoes
Root vegetables are the perfect carbohydrate component to any meal.  Roasted sweet potatoes pair well with salmon or chicken, and are easy to prepare.  One cup of sweet potato contains 27 grams of carbohydrates along with a whopping 377% of your daily recommended amount of Vitamin A. 

A winter vegetable, parsnips are similar to carrots but with a sweeter taste.  Like sweet potatoes, parsnips are great when prepared roasted as a complement to fish or meat.  Alternatively, roasted parsnips can be tossed with rice, lentils, or quinoa.  One cup of cooked parsnip contains 24 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of fiber, and 500 mg of potassium!


Honey-Lemon Tea
Make your water count when you hydrate.  Honey-lemon tea is a great way to increase your carbohydrate consumption in a healthy way.  Stir one tablespoon honey and one tablespoon lemon juice into 12 ounces of hot water.  Besides having anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, this tea will provide 22 grams of carbohydrates. 

Maple Syrup-Sweetened Coffee
If you add sugar to your coffee, consider a healthier alternative, such as maple syrup.  One tablespoon maple syrup provides 13 grams of carbohydrates (versus 10 grams carbohydrates for table sugar), while also being a source of potassium, calcium, and magnesium.