Caution: Low-Carb Diets Are Not for Athletes

Considering a low-carb diet? Learn why athletes should stay away from low-carb diets like the Atkins diet.

Low-Carb Diet

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.

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