Caution: Low-Carb Diets Are Not for Athletes | STACK

Become a Better Athlete. Sign Up for our FREE Newsletter.

Caution: Low-Carb Diets Are Not for Athletes

March 23, 2012

Must See Nutrition Videos

Low-carb diets, such as the Atkins Diet, have gained popularity in recent years amid growing concern about obesity and diabetes. As Americans, we tend to consume plenty of carb-based foods—like cereal, pasta, rice and crackers. Such foods are easy to overeat. By reducing their carb intake, many people have been able to lose weight, eat a more balanced diet or better manage their blood sugar. But is a low-carb diet right for you?

As an athlete, if you’re in good health and your body weight is normal, you do not need to cut carbs. Because carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy, cutting them out of your diet can cause serious fatigue and performance drops. Carbohydrates also work with protein to help build muscle. If you don’t fuel your body properly with carbohydrates, you may experience dizziness or become light-headed during or immediately after a workout. Neglecting carbs can also cause you to have cravings or overeat at night.

Athletes should strive to eat balanced meals with carbohydrates, protein, vegetables and healthy fats. The recommendation for carbohydrate consumption for athletes is 43 to 46 percent of total calories. Instead of dominating your diet with the refined carbohydrates found in sweets, white flour and snack products, choose the healthier carbs found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Here are some top carbohydrate food choices to include in your daily food intake:


  • Whole grain cereal
  • Wheat waffles or pancakes
  • Oatmeal


  • Wheat bread
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Pita bread
  • Beans


  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn
  • Peas


  • Fruit
  • Wheat crackers
  • Popcorn

Remember, as an athlete, you need to eat three meals and two or three snacks per day. Use the foods suggested above as a guide to becoming a healthier athlete, improving your performance and avoiding the dangers of a low-carb diet.


Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian in private practice at Rebecca Bitzer and Associates. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations for athletes of all ages and activity levels, and is an active member of the Sports Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Visit for running and recipe updates.

Topics: CARBS
Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
Kait Fortunato
- Kait Fortunato is a registered dietitian at Rebecca Bitzer & Associates, a large and experienced nutrition practice in Maryland. She focuses on individualized nutritional recommendations...
Must See
Why You Should Never Doubt Colin Kaepernick
Views: 16,154,763
NFL Wide Receiver Randall Cobb Outworks Everyone
Views: 22,816,575
Roy Hibbert 540 lbs Deadlift
Views: 1,544,986

Featured Videos

Quest for the Ring: Duke University Views: 217,694
Eastbay: It Begins Now Views: 70,986
Path to the Pros 2015: Training Days Views: 118,412
Load More


STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers


Latest issues of STACK Magazine


Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice


Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes


Find the latest news relevant to athletes

More Cool Stuff You'll Like

5 Ways to Fuel Your Early Morning Workout

Five Ways to Fuel Morning Workouts Early morning workouts are great because you get them done. On the downside, they are difficult to fuel because you'd...

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

5 Nutritional Power Combos for Athletes

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

The 6 Worst Foods for Athletes

10 Easy Ways to Eat Real Food

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

The Case for Red Meat

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

How to Eat Organic Without Breaking the Bank

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

5 Non-Boring Ways To Eat Chicken

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

Living Near Fast Food Could Increase Your Odds of Obesity

How to Deal With Your Sugar Cravings

10 Athlete-Approved, High-Protein Healthy Cereals

Spice Up Your Healthy Cooking With These Lively Combos

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Boston Cannons'

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

Why You Need Dietary Fiber

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head