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Pre-Game Carb Loading

When you eat a starchy food, like a banana, the carbohydrates are changed into blood sugar or glucose, which muscles burn for energy.  Any glucose that's not immediately used gets stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen so it can be used for energy later.  Glycogen is the preferred fuel for muscles. 

All physical activities performed at a moderate to high intensity require glycogen as the primary energy source.  Foods that contain mostly carbohydrates give your body this most important energy-providing fuel.  To get some good play time out of the meal you eat before your game, the major portion of the meal should be carbohydrate-based.  It's not surprising that most whole foods, foods that nature creates, have ample carbohydrates. 

Good sources of mostly carbohydrate foods are grains, vegetables and fruits, so a good meal might be oatmeal with fresh blueberries, or rice and stir-fried vegetables. 

The catch in this: in order for the carbohydrates to make this magical transformation into muscle energy they require some teammates: vitamins and minerals.  The best way to get those? Fresh vegetables and fruit.  Some protein is essential too.  The amino acids which make up protein help stimulate the transformation of carbohydrates into muscle glycogen.  So when you are planning your ultimate pre-game meal, put the carbohydrates on the starting line-up but don't forget to add fruits, vegetables, and a protein source as teammates.

Cynthia Lair is a blogger, author (with Scott Murdoch, PhD, RD) of Feeding the Young Athlete: Sports Nutrition Made Easy for Players and Parents (available on her website and from which this article has been adapted) and the newly revised 3rd edition of Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children and Parents.  She is also the host of Cookus Interuptus, a web-based organic cooking show.



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