How Many Carbohydrates Per Day?
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. Therefore, it is important to consume them in sufficient amounts. A general recommendation for healthy individuals is a carbohydrate intake of 45% to 65% of daily caloric needs 1. This means a carbohydrate requirement of 3 to 4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. Primary sources should be grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and starchy plants.
If too few carbohydrates are consumed, it can lead to acidification of the blood (acidosis), resulting in a loss of drive and performance.
On the other hand, if the body tends to quickly accumulate body fat, the daily carbohydrate requirement should be about 2 to 3 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Carbohydrate requirements depend on various factors
Since the requirement depends on numerous factors such as fitness goals, fitness level, daily activities, training load, body type, and gender, the consumption of carbohydrates should be adjusted accordingly.By consuming complex carbohydrates (slow-release, complex carbs) regularly, glycogen stores, apart from intensive training, remain full. Glycogen stores are needed for physical activities and serve as an energy source. During physical exertion, the reserves are quickly depleted and must be replenished at regular intervals (see carbohydrate-rich foods).
Sportspeople and active individuals require more carbohydrates
Due to a higher basal metabolic rate, sportspeople and physically active individuals require more energy in the form of carbohydrates. It is recommended that for intense training days and for muscle building, about 4 to 6 g of complex carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight be consumed. This equates to approximately 320 to 480 g of carbohydrates per day for an 80 kg individual, or about 1,312 to 1,968 kcal.
Endurance athletes in particular may need to increase their daily carbohydrate intake by up to 70% 2.
Below is a table of recommended carbohydrate intake and recovery guidelines based on physical activity levels, sourced from 3:
|Activity Level||Situation||Carbohydrate Target per kg Body Weight|
|Light||Low Intensity||3 - 5 g|
|Moderate||Moderate Training (~1 hour per day)||5 - 7 g|
|High||Endurance Training (moderate to high intensity for 1-3 hours per day)||6 - 10 g|
|Very high||Extreme engagement (moderate to high intensity for >4-5 hours per day)||8 - 12 g|
Carbohydrate Needs Before Training and Competition
Since the body has limited glycogen storage capacity (about 2,000 kcal), intense exercise and the depletion of glycogen reserves can lead to a decline in performance. Therefore, it makes sense to supply the body with carbohydrates before training so that it has enough energy available during the workout. Athletes should consume about 65 to 125 g of carbohydrates through their diet for sufficient energy before training 4.
Professional athletes may benefit from an increased performance of their body if they consume 200 to 300 g of carbohydrates three to four hours before competition to absorb the carbohydrates in the digestive tract 5.
Carbohydrate requirements during exercise (up to 90 minutes)
Consuming carbohydrates during exercise can improve performance. During exercise lasting between one and 2.5 hours, athletes should consume 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour to maintain a constant glucose level 6. This amount corresponds to the maximum glycogen level that muscles can absorb during activity 7. During prolonged, high-intensity exercise, glycogen reserves last for about 20 minutes. During low-intensity exercise such as moderate endurance runs, glycogen reserves can last up to 90 minutes and provide the body with energy 8.
Carbohydrate Needs During Exercise Lasting Over 90 Minutes
During exercise lasting over 90 minutes, carbohydrates should be consumed every 30 minutes (15 to 30 g) 9. Suitable sources include cereal or energy bars and sports drinks.
Maintaining carbohydrate levels is especially important during endurance events 10. To achieve this, it is recommended to consume 1.5 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight during the first 30 minutes, followed by the same amount every 2 hours for 4 to 6 hours.
Well-trained endurance athletes who exercise or compete for more than 2.5 hours can metabolize up to 90 g of carbohydrates per hour if a mixture of glucose and fructose is consumed 11.
Muscle Glycogen Replenishment After Exercise
After exercise, the glycogen stores can be quickly replenished with carbohydrates (insulin levels rise). This replenishes the depleted muscle glycogen stores, which can stop catabolic (muscle breakdown) processes. Within the first half hour after exercise, athletes should consume 1 to 1.5 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight 12. To further replenish glycogen stores, it is recommended to consume the aforementioned amounts every 2 hours for 4 to 6 times.
With a calorie-rich diet of 4,000 to 5,000 kcal with a carbohydrate content of 50%, a 70 kg athlete can easily maintain their glycogen stores from day to day 13. However, if the calorie intake is below 2,000 kcal per day for a 60 kg athlete, the glycogen stores can only be replenished with a carbohydrate content of 60% in the diet with great difficulty.
If a top performance needs to be achieved again within 24 hours after intense training, it is recommended to consume a higher amount of carbohydrates (1.2 g per kg of body weight per hour) or a smaller amount of carbohydrates (0.8 g / kg / h) with a small amount of protein (0.2 to 0.4 g / kg / h) in the first few hours after exercise 14.
Energy from Fats and Proteins in Case of a Carbohydrate Deficiency
When the body does not receive enough carbohydrates through diet, it synthesizes glucose from fats and proteins (amino acids) to replenish the glycogen reserves. A lack of carbohydrates can lead to muscle breakdown as the amino acids stored in the muscles are extracted and converted into glucose in the liver. This can result in fatigue as well.
Recommended Carbohydrate Intake for Weight Loss
To lose weight, the recommended carbohydrate intake should be reduced to about 1.5 g per kilogram of body weight. It is important not to completely eliminate carbohydrates from the diet as they are necessary for numerous metabolic processes to function properly. Therefore, a minimum daily requirement for carbohydrates has been established.
Daily Minimum Requirement
The minimum amount of carbohydrates required by the body to survive (maintaining the functions of the nervous system and tissues, producing red blood cells) is 130 g 15. This amount is not sufficient for athletic activities. Athletes require a minimum of 250 g of carbohydrates per day.