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If you’re interested in fitness or sports, you might have heard of the concept of “carb loading,” or eating lots of carbohydrates before a big strenuous workout to power up. But you’ve probably also heard that carbs are bad for your health and your fitness goals … so what gives? 

It’s no secret that eating too much sugar can be detrimental to your body. But as it turns out, there are plenty of beneficial carbohydrates that you can incorporate into your diet to get the same energy-boosting benefits that you get from sugary “bad” carbs, also known as simple carbohydrates.  

What Are Simple Carbohydrates? 

Some strawberries sit on the counter next to a spoonful of sugar.

Simple carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars, are composed of simple carbohydrate molecules, aka monosaccharides. Your body breaks monosaccharides down and absorbs them very quickly, which means that they can be used for an immediate, small burst of energy.

That’s why simple carbohydrates are often associated with the so-called “sugar rush.” You can find them in many sweet treats, such as baked goods, ice cream, and soda. 

Unfortunately, simple carbohydrates are also known to have negative health effects. Some studies have found links between excessive simple carbohydrate consumption and metabolic syndrome, a metabolic disorder that can increase your risk of developing long-term chronic conditions like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, eating too many simple carbohydrates is also thought to negatively impact your mood and energy levels in the long run. 

However, not all carbohydrates are bad! While simple sugars can have negative impacts on your health and energy levels over time, there are also many good carbohydrate choices that are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that your body needs to function.

Good carbohydrate sources are also a key source of dietary fiber, which is a nutrient that can help regulate your digestive system and improve your gut microbiome.

Additionally, eating carbohydrates may be crucial for your performance in the gym, especially if you like to perform long and intense exercises. After you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into molecules called glycogen, which acts as a crucial source of energy during hard workouts. 

Because of this, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that eating carbohydrates during long and strenuous exercise sessions can be beneficial for your endurance.

This was highlighted recently by a study that evaluated the popular Keto diet, which involves a very low carbohydrate intake. The study found that following Keto recommendations has been shown to impair athletic performance during higher-intensity workouts. 

So, if you want to get the most out of your workout, there’s plenty of evidence that you should be carb loading! According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), the research suggests that you should eat approximately 1 gram of carbohydrates per kilogram of your body weight an hour before your workout. 

However, there’s a caveat at play here. The key to effective carb loading is not to eat just any carbohydrates, but to eat complex carbohydrates.

Unlike simple sugars, complex carbohydrate sources are complex molecules that take a while for your body to digest and break down.

Many complex carbohydrates also contain other vital nutrients like fiber, which can slow down the rate at which you digest carbohydrates and benefit your general health in the long run. 

7 Replacements For Simple Carbohydrates That Can Take Your Workout to the Next Level


Oats and nuts are displayed artfully.

Oats are a complex carb with several active compounds, like fiber, that are thought to be beneficial for your overall health. As a result, eating oats has been associated with several heart health-boosting benefits, including cholesterol levels improvement and improved gut health. 

There are plenty of ways to eat oats, which makes it a convenient option for your fitness routine no matter what time of day you choose to work out. 

Heat oats up for a bowl of hot cereal in the morning or make breakfast easy by mixing up some overnight oats the night before. You can even blend oats into your protein shake for on-the-go nutrition on busy days. 


A bowl of raspberries.

Craving sweets but still want to get the most out of your workout? Snack smart by making sure you’re getting plenty of fiber to power your fitness routine! 

Dietary fiber can slow down the rate at which your body metabolizes nutrients, which means that sugars from fiber-rich carbohydrate sources won’t enter your bloodstream as quickly and cause a subsequent crash. 

Raspberries contain more fiber than almost any other fruit per serving, which makes it a tasty and wise pre-workout option. 

Brown rice 

Two bowls of black and brown rice sit in white bowls.

Rice is a starch, or a kind of complex carbohydrate that takes longer for your body to digest than simple sugars. To get the most nutrients out of your rice serving, opt for brown rice rather than white rice. Brown rice is less refined than white rice and contains important nutrients like B vitamins, essential amino acids, and phytochemicals

Additionally, brown rice has more fiber than white rice, making it more satisfying and keeping you feeling full for a longer period of time. For a healthy and balanced pre-workout meal, pair it with a lean protein like chicken breast or turkey. 

Sweet potatoes 

Sliced sweet potatoes sit on a cutting board.

Sweet potatoes are another starchy (but nourishing) favorite! They do have more total carbohydrates than regular potatoes, but sweet potatoes are also filled with tons of nutrients like Vitamin A as well as other plant-based chemicals. 

Eating sweet potatoes has been linked to several potential health benefits, including antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects.  


A bowl of fresh chickpeas.

Legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils are great sources of dietary fiber, making them wise choices for a filling and satisfying pre-workout carbohydrate. 

Legumes are also great sources of plant-based protein, which adds another benefit if you’re trying to improve your body composition. 

Add legumes to your salads or roast them and eat them on their own for a quick and healthy appetizer.


A jar of quinoa sits on a tray.

The ancient grain quinoa is also a good source of plant-based protein. When you consider its ample amounts of fiber, you can see why quinoa works well as a substitute for less healthy refined carbohydrates like pasta.

Use quinoa as the base of your next grain bowl for a power-packed meal!

Whole grain bread

A hearty loaf of whole-grained bread.

Finally, there are few pre-workout meals as easy and delicious as a slice of toast paired with your favorite nut butter! To amplify the toast’s health benefits and get more nutrition per bite, consider replacing your refined white bread with a whole-grain version instead, which take longer for your body to digest. 


Carbohydrates absolutely have a well-deserved place in sports nutrition. So does carb loading. But, to ensure carb loading doesn’t keep you from hitting your health and fitness goals, it’s important to stick with complex carbohydrates whenever possible. 

Rather than filling up on simple sugars that quickly amp you up and then just as quickly cause you to crash, complex carbohydrates take longer for your body to digest. To support your body throughout all phases of your fitness, nutrient-packed complex carbohydrates are your best friend!

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