Are Larger Athletes Able To Use More Carbohydrates During Training?


Olympic Games - Womens Team Pursuit

A common question among athletes is whether a larger athlete should eat more carbohydrates hourly during training than their smaller counterpart?

It may seem counter intuitive that carbohydrate requirements could be the same for athletes of different sizes. Most would assume that if you are bigger with more muscle, you would need more carbohydrates during training.

Unlike daily nutrition, where we determine macronutrient needs based on an athlete’s weight, training intensity and duration, when it comes to training nutrition, carbohydrate oxidation rates appear to be determined by absorption rates of carbohydrates through the intestines. Basically, most adults have similar sized intestines, therefor their stature will not be the determining factor in their nutrition during training.

I’ve worked with 120lb athletes who consumed 80-90g/hour during 3-5 hour races and also worked with  180 pound  athletes who consumed 60-70g/hour during 3-5 hour races. Both had done trial and error and found their sweet spot and the carbohydrate needs that worked for them.

Oxidation rates of single carbohydrates for example glucose, consumed alone, max out at about 60g/hour.

Oxidation rates of multiple transportable carbohydrates, ex.glucose + fructose, glucose + maltodextrin,  max out closer to approximately 100g/hour.

Research has demonstrated that ingesting over 105 grams per hour doesn’t improve oxidation rates and may cause GI (gastrointestinal) upset.

The majority of sports nutrition products are using multiple carbohydrate sources (gels, chews, quality sports drinks). As a practical example, the average gel has 30g of carbohydrates and the average sports drink has anywhere from 20g-30g of carbohydrates. Alternatively a whole food such as a medium banana has approximately 25g of carbohydrates.

For moderate to intense “training sessions” over 2 hours of time, consuming carbohydrates does delay the onset of glycogen depletion and improve performance. Carbohydrates can even improve performance in high intensity efforts as short as one hour. This can be related more so to the brain and receptors in the mouth, both of which are still being researched and are  certainly very interesting! This gives you good reason to start that 60-90 minute criterium or time trial with a few mouthfuls of sports drink or a gel on hand.

Find a fueling strategy that works for you during training and execute it during competition for optimal performance. Practice first what you will try on race day as this is never the time to experiment. Also you can train your gut to better absorb carbohydrates with practice, it’s not only your legs and arms that can respond to training, your gut does as well.

Start journalling your hourly carbohydrate intake during different types of training rides, along with how you felt by the end of your session. Assuming all other things were in place (daily nutrition included the proper macronutrient intakes and hydration), work from here. If you were fading during the session or as it was ending, up your hourly intake for the next session. If you were strong until the end, did you need as much as you consumed? With careful journalling of the cause and effect you will find what works for you for particular types of workouts.

Keep in mind that more intensity of your training will affect the oxidation rate of carbohydrates. One hour of high intensity training will use more carbohydrates than the same time training at medium intensity. Not all workouts will be equal in their fuel requirements.

Just remember, don’t look to your left and right on a training ride to determine what your carbohydrate intakes should be, because that light weight rider beside you may actually need more carbohydrates than you do! Focus on yourself and your own nutritional needs.


NSAG – Next Level Performance Nutrition



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