Carbohydrates, thinking (slightly) outside the box

Carbohydrates, thinking (slightly) outside the box

When most people think of carbohydrates, they typically think of bread, pasta, other grains and/or generally anything with sugar in it. Most tend to forget that there are other great sources of carbohydrates out there - vegetables and fruits! My favorite and tonight's recipe star - is the yam! If you are interested in sports & exercise nutrition information, read on. If you are here for the recipe, scroll down to the bottom!

Carbohydrate intake is, without a doubt, important for athletes. It is a key source of fuel for exercise, especially during long and/or intense training sessions. The body stores carbohydrate as glycogen in the muscles and liver, but that storage capacity is limited and when these carbohydrate stores are not enough to meet the demands of training, performance will be affected negatively, fatigue will be high, and the immune system's function will decrease resulting in the athlete getting sick frequently. When an athlete misses too many training sessions due to illness, consistency is affected, which is not a good thing for progress and performance!


Practical tip: Use grams per kilogram of body weight instead of percent of daily calories when looking at carbohydrate intakes. Most reputable scientific resources will discuss recommendations using these units, as they are more accurate and useful when trying to get the right amount of carbohydrates in to support training.

That said, it does not mean athletes need to eat as many carbohydrates as they can throughout the day. It simple means that they need to make sure they are getting enough carbohydrates in to support the demands of their training, taking into account duration, intensity, etc. Activity levels tend to change daily, and carbohydrate intake needs to change accordingly. As a general rule: more on harder and/longer days, less on easier days.

Personally, I don't like looking at carbohydrate intakes in terms of 'low', 'moderate' or 'high'. The terms 'adequate' or 'not adequate' paint a much better and accurate picture, at least in my experience.

Practical tip: Eat your carbohydrates around training sessions (before, during and after). It will help your performance and recovery as well as make it easier to cycle your carbohydrate intake based on training demands.

So, how much do you need a day? That depends! Each athlete requires a different amount each day, depending on their training program and goal. I try to avoid one size fits all, especially with general recommendations ranging from 2g/kg to 10g/kg! Want specific advice? Get in touch and I would love to help you out.

Going back to carbohydrate sources... I like to work on a 'tier system'. Think outside the (cereal) box. Start with vegetables and fruit, including yams, of course. Then move to whole grain sources as needed to make sure you are getting enough carbohydrates to support your training. Yams are one of my favorite carbohydrate sources, because it has a fantastic nutritional profile! 1 cup of cubed yam (cooked) has 37g carbohydrates, 5g fiber (to reduce fiber content, peel it), 1g sugar and 2g protein. It's glycemic load is low and it is high in Vitamin C, potassium, manganese and Vitamin B6.

Yams are extremely easy to cook and there are so many things you can do with them... You can make baked yam fries with olive oil and various spices (cinnamon, garam masala, madras curry, smoked paprika...), you can mash them with a little bit of coconut milk (or coconut oil) and vanilla, you can make a hash (like this one), add them to smoothies, make quick breads with them or even pancakes. As an added bonus, they are great either savory or sweet. Is anyone else hungry all of a sudden, or is it just me...?

The following recipe, isn't really a recipe with rigid quantities and instructions. It is more if a serving suggestion, that allows you to get your creative juices flowing...

Mashed yams with berries & coconut


  • 1 medium yam, cut into small pieces (smaller pieces = faster cooking time)
  • Cinnamon (as much as you like)
  • Olive oil (just a bit)
  • a dash of coconut milk
  • Coconut flakes (unsweetened)
  • Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc (your choice)
  • Vanilla extract
  • Drizzle of maple syrup or honey


  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. Drizzle the yam with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with cinnamon. Make sure all yam pieces are covered
  3. Roast until soft
  4. Remove from oven & let cool for a few minutes
  5. Mash the yams with vanilla and dash of coconut milk (you can use a food processor, I do)
  6. Place in a small bowl and top with coconut flakes, berries and drizzle with maple syrup or honey


These same mashed yam (if you have leftovers) can be used for a savory meal/snack too - top with caramelized onions, a bit of cooked spinach and a poached egg.

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