Carbohydrate Availability and Physical Performance: Physiological Overview and Practical Recommendations

Nutrients. 2019 May 16;11(5):1084. doi: 10.3390/nu11051084.


Strong evidence during the last few decades has highlighted the importance of nutrition for sport performance, the role of carbohydrates (CHO) being of special interest. Glycogen is currently not only considered an energy substrate but also a regulator of the signaling pathways that regulate exercise-induced adaptations. Thus, low or high CHO availabilities can result in both beneficial or negative results depending on the purpose. On the one hand, the depletion of glycogen levels is a limiting factor of performance during sessions in which high exercise intensities are required; therefore ensuring a high CHO availability before and during exercise is of major importance. A high CHO availability has also been positively related to the exercise-induced adaptations to resistance training. By contrast, a low CHO availability seems to promote endurance-exercise-induced adaptations such as mitochondrial biogenesis and enhanced lipolysis. In the present narrative review, we aim to provide a holistic overview of how CHO availability impacts physical performance as well as to provide practical recommendations on how training and nutrition might be combined to maximize performance. Attending to the existing evidence, no universal recommendations regarding CHO intake can be given to athletes as nutrition should be periodized according to training loads and objectives.

Keywords: ergogenic aids; exercise; sport nutrition; supplement.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Carbohydrate Metabolism
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Exercise
  • Food Analysis
  • Humans
  • Muscle Strength
  • Physical Endurance
  • Sports Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates