Glycemic index and glycemic load: relevance for athletes in training

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Don Maclaren with Graeme Close

It has long been accepted that carbohydrates are essential for optimum athletic performance and that depletion of the body’s carbohydrate stores are associated with premature fatigue. Athletes are therefore advised to consume a diet high in carbohydrates, supplement carbohydrates before exercise, drink carbohydrates during exercise, and replace them as soon aspossible after exercise. More recently, there has been an interest in exploring the effects of different types of carbohydrates on athletic performance. Carbohydrates have been classified (nutritionally) into simple and complex forms depending on their structure. In the last 8-10 years or so, the concept of Glycemic Index (GI) has been promoted as a more appropriate way of nutritionally classifying carbohydrates. This article explains the concept of GI as well as Glycemic Load (GL), before discussing how they can be utilised by athletes and coaches to reduce body fat, promote the growth of lean muscle mass, prevent fatigue and enhance recovery.

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