Dr Will’s 5 W’s for Carbohydrate Intake

Who, what, when, where, and why


Endurance athletes, men and women, exercising for one hour or more. Athletes that are trying to get the best out of themselves in a given training session or race. Triathlon, kayaking, swimming, mountain biking, cycling, running, walking and any other endurance activity.


Carbohydrates are referred to as simple or complex. Each of these forms of carbohydrates are digested differently in your body. Which of these carbohydrates you ingest during your endurance event can have a significant impact on the way you digest carbohydrate. Most carbohydrate supplements will contain simple sugars. these sugars will come in the form of glucose, fructose or sucrose. A complex carbohydrate is sometimes referred to as starch. Complex carbohydrates require more effort to digest.


To simplify things, I’ve made this traffic light table.


As in, where are you going to get your carbohydrate from? Nowadays, you have a lot of choice for how you can get carbohydrate. Gels, Lollies, Sports Drink, Bars, Fruit Normal food. Bread, pizza, chips, biscuits, etc..

As I said in the “what” section, simple is better. Personally, I recommend that athletes have water separate from their carbohydrate rather than all-in-ones like a Gatorade or Powerade. Sometimes, you won’t have a choice due to aid stations or storage space, in that case, you need to make sure you’re getting enough fluid AND carbohydrate rather than just concentrating on the carbohydrate number. The longer the duration the lower the intensity. At lower intensities you’ll be able to digest more complex carbohydrate because your muscles don’t require as, much blood. This means there’s more blood flow to help with digestion. Whatever, you decide to do, try it first!


Glycogen is how your body stores carbohydrate. You can only store 300-500g of carbohydrate, most of which is in your muscles.

When you use your muscle glycogen it’s gone, and when it runs out you lose a boost to your performance.

To keep that performance boost you can ingest carbohydrate throughout your event or training session. Ingesting carbohydrate will ensure your muscle glycogen doesn’t run out before the end of the event.



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