Choosing Healthy Carbohydrates for Optimal Basketball Performance
There is a lot of controversy over carbohydrates floating around the internet these days. While some diets recommend that you go as low carb as possible, others simply recommend that you switch to focusing on what kind of carbohydrates you are consuming.
Basketball players certainly need carbohydrates because of all the energy expended during workouts, practices and games. I like to think of carbohydrates like the gas in a car – without it, you aren’t getting anywhere very quickly right? So, when it comes to basketball performance, carbohydrates are a must!
The main health concerns with the over consumption of unhealthy carbohydrates over a period of time are unstable blood sugar levels, unwanted weight gain, heart disease and metabolic disease (type 2 diabetes).
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be overweight to suffer from health issues like unstable blood sugar levels and diabetes, making it important as a basketball player to understand why you need to be choosing your carbohydrate sources wisely to support your overall health and basketball performance.
What are Bad Basketball Carbs?
Bad carbs, most commonly referred to as ‘simple carbohydrates’ are made up of only one or two sugar molecules. Simple carbs are rapidly digested in the body and are the quickest source of energy available; however, the main problem with relying on simple carbs as a fuel source for basketball performance is that the energy is not sustainable and they cause unstable blood sugar levels and insulin production.
The digestion of simple carbs happens so fast in the body that blood sugar levels skyrocket almost instantly causing a surge of energy. This rapid rise in blood sugar is always shortly followed by an equally fast decline known as a ‘blood sugar crash’. A blood sugar crash typically leaves you feeling tired, stressed and hungry again, which is why the overconsumption of simple carbs can lead to overeating and is unhealthy in general.
Each time this rapid rise and fall in blood sugar happens, the pancreas secretes insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is important for regulating several metabolic functions in the body including blood glucose uptake and fat storage. Basically, insulin is responsible for helping the cells pull glucose (energy) from the blood which is why it is such a key part of healthy energy and metabolism.
Over time, if you continually rely on simple carbs as a main fuel source then your body either stops responding to the insulin that the pancreas sends out or the pancreas becomes overworked and quits releasing insulin altogether. At this point, you are headed for more serious health problems.
Another key thing to know about simple carbs is that they have little to no fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fiber plays a huge role in healthy digestion and stable blood sugar levels and without it, your metabolism and energy levels will continue to be on a roller coaster ride of instability and inefficiency.
Sources of simple carbs to greatly reduce or completely eliminate mostly include items that contain refined sugars and flours like table sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, candy, soft drinks, conventional fruit drinks, jellies, white, wheat and multi-grain breads, wheat pasta, chips, cookies, baked goods and packaged cereals. There are healthier versions of many of these foods, but generally speaking these should be on your list to avoid.
What are Good Basketball Carbs?
On the other hand, good carbs or ‘complex carbohydrates’, are an ideal source of sustainable energy for basketball performance. Complex carbs are made of sugar molecules that are woven together like a braid which digest much more slowly in the body.
Digesting slowly means that blood sugar levels gradually increase and insulin production is much slower making complex carbs more suitable for a healthy metabolism.
Since complex carbohydrates are whole food and plant based, they are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Sources of complex carbs include: green vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole-grains like buckwheat, quinoa, amaranth, millet and spelt, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and corn, and legumes like beans, peas and lentils.
Simple Vs. Complex Carbs for Basketball Performance
Basketball performance is comprised of several repetitive stop-and-go movements, sprinting and endurance. This requires a lot of energy for the body, especially over the course of an intense 40 minute game or two hour practice.
Your choice of carbohydrates for fueling your body before a basketball workout, practice or game is going to determine how much steam you have in your engine so to speak.
Simple carbs may give you a quick burst of energy, but if you rely on them to get you all the way through, it’s likely that you will be left at the halfway mark or sooner feeling drained, hungry and craving more fuel. Have you ever had to grab a snack at halftime or during practice because you already felt exhausted because your blood sugar dropped so low? This is an example of what happens when you fuel your body with carbohydrate choices that simply don’t last.
Complex carbs are obviously the best choice since they will digest more slowly and the energy extracted from them will be distributed to you over a longer period of time, leaving you with more endurance to enhance your overall performance.
Using the Glycemic Index Chart to Choose Carbs
The glycemic index is a popular way to distinguish between good and bad carbs. This chart displays foods based upon a low (0-55), medium (56-69) and high (70 or greater) value. The higher a food falls on the Glycemic Index, the faster it raises blood sugar levels.
While it’s common sense that the simple carbs I listed above generally have a high GI value, this chart provides an efficient way to determine between the healthier complex carb choices. Instead of just relying on the fact that all fruits and vegetables are complex carbs, this is a way for you to get more specific with your choices if you’d like.
Although carbohydrates tend to catch a bad reputation these days because of the over-processing of many popular foods, they are a necessity for basketball players. Understanding the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is the key to knowing how to fuel your basketball body properly when gearing up for performance. Ask your basketball trainer how he / she can help you manage your carbs for optimal performance.