If you Google ‘USA Swimming what should I eat?’ you’ll get this slideshow. This is the second post in which we try to make sense of the nutritional advice USA Swimming gives to swim coaches.
This is slide 18. And it is a mess.
The first sentence is gibberish. Foods are miscategorized, and classified according to their moral worth. This is far below the standards we ought to expect from USA Swimming.
These categories are nonsense. White bread and wheat bread, white rice and brown rice, white pasta and whole grain pasta, oatmeal and biscuits are mostly polysaccharides, otherwise known as ‘complex carbohydrates.’ All the foods listed here provide more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates except for cane sugar (a disaccharide), soda (sweetened with disaccharides), juice (naturally containing a lot of disaccharides and the monosaccharides glucose and fructose), nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds should not be on this list at all. Nuts and seeds are not significant sources of carbohydrate, simple or complex. In a 100 calorie serving of almonds, about 80 calories come from fat, about 15 calories from protein and maybe 5 calories come from carbohydrates (of which half are simple carbohydrates). In 100 calories of sunflower seeds, you’d get 82 calories from fat, 9 calories from protein, and 9 calories from carbohydrate (6 calories of complex carbohydrates, 3 calories from simple carbohydrates).
Bottled sauces. Really? ‘Bottled sauces’ gets its own mention? The sugar in ketchup or barbecue sauce is not a nutritional matter of significance to adolescent endurance athletes.
‘Bad carbs’ are GOOD for adolescent endurance athletes.
- Pure energy intake. For adolescent endurance athletes, quantity comes first. And the quantity requirements can be hard to meet. If adding in cakes, biscuits, soda, and juice is the only way to ensure consumption of adequate energy, do it. Also consider ice cream, cookies, doughnuts, cupcakes, whipped cream, chocolate syrup, and candy.
- Fueling during intense exertion (whether practice or meets). Simple sugars – cane sugar, table sugar, sucrose, disaccharides, whatever you call it – are the most practical and useful fuel to consume while exercising or competing. Sugar (either sucrose and/or high fructose corn-syrup) is the energy source in sports drinks and gels. Don’t shy away. Sucrose is half glucose and half fructose. High fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose, 45% glucose. When combined, glucose and fructose provide more usable energy during exertion than glucose alone or fructose alone or anything else so far identified. Complex carbohydrate sources release energy more slowly precisely because they are ‘complex’, so they are good if you have time to digest and you want the energy pay-off later on. If you need energy now, eat sugar.
- Recovery and restocking glycogen after exercise. When you eat white bread, white pasta and white rice, your body efficiently converts it to glucose with little waste (fibre). Some of that glucose is used for immediate energy and the rest is converted to glycogen. The glycogen is then shunted off to the muscles and liver for later use during high-intensity exertion. It is hard to beat refined grains for convenience, palatability, and efficiency in restocking glycogen stores.
Fibre: Fibre is the only thing that unites the foods listed in the ‘Good Carbs’ column. Middle-aged office workers on diets love fibre. Fibre, by definition, cannot be digested and used for energy. It moves deliberately through the stomach and digestive tract. You can eat smaller amounts of high-fibre foods and feel more full. If you are dieting and trying to reduce the overall energy available in your body (lose fat tissue), fibre is your friend.
If you are an adolescent endurance athlete, fibre is NOT your friend. Whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice have more fibre (about 2-3 times as much), and thus less digestible carbohydrate, than equivalent amounts of more refined grains. Gram for gram, whole grain bread and pasta and brown rice (compared to more refined ‘white’ versions) will make adolescent athletes feel more full (bad) while providing less glucose for glycogen restoration (also bad).
Let’s do one more slide before taking a break. OK, slide 19, ‘Functional Fueling: Protein’ Among other things we are told that protein:
Aids absorption of carbohydrates
No, it doesn’t. From ACSM 2016: Compared to ingestion of carbohydrate alone, coingestion of carbohydrate plus protein together during the recovery period resulted in no difference in the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis.