Are carbs really the enemy?
If you’re reading this, you must be seeking the real truth about carbs! For what seems like an eternity, our friends, family and favorite celeb’s have warned us about carbs: “Carbs make you fat”, “carbs are the enemy”. However, anybody that has tried to cut out carbs will tell you that it is not fun, nor smart for that matter. The real key to achieving maximum performance benefits is the timing and type of carbohydrate consumption. Think of this strategy as a sandwich, with carbohydrate being the bread (How ironic!) and exercise being the filling.
Why do I need Carbs?
There are two types of carbohydrate, simple (High GI) and complex (Low GI). Simple carbohydrates (Often guilty pleasures) e.g. sweets, white rice, pasta and bread, provide a quick hit of energy, whereas complex carbohydrates e.g. whole grains, oats, and beans, are more of a slow burner.
Carbohydrate is the body’s primary source for energy, and is an important fuel for both muscle tissue and the central nervous system. Moderate to high intensity endurance activities (e.g. 65-80% VO2 max), as well as resistance-based workouts (e.g. 3-4 sets using 6 – 20 repetitions) rely extensively on carbohydrate as a fuel source. Therefore, the availability of glycogen stores is often a limiting factor in athletic performance and health. For example, six sets of 12 reps of leg extensions were found to reduce quadriceps glycogen stores by 39%. As these stores decline, exercise intensity and work output also decrease, leading to more fatigue and less benefits.
For performance-focused individuals, getting the most out of a workout is crucial. Therefore, the more efficient we can be in the gym, on the court or on the track, the better. So why go into your workout inadequately fuelled, or leave without sufficiently replenishing? That is a sure-fire way to BURN OUT and miss out on GAINS.
When training sessions are later in the day, a low GI carbohydrate meal of around 0.5g per lb of body weight should be consumed 3-4 hours pre-exercise e.g. a 200lb male would consume 100g of carbohydrate. This ensures that there is adequate glycogen in the muscles and blood to facilitate the exercise to come. A smaller carbohydrate snack e.g. a piece of fruit and some nuts, can also be consumed around 1 hour pre-workout, this helps to prevent any dips in energy. For morning exercise, a moderate carbohydrate meal e.g. oats and fruit, can be consumed 1 hour pre-workout. However, be cautious! If the meal is too large, you may experience some GI discomfort. Carbohydrate consumed in the 60 minutes prior to exercise has been shown to improve performance by 7-20%.
Without carbohydrate post-exercise, the rate of glycogen resynthesis is relatively low e.g. it will take longer for the muscle to recover. This can result in reduced adaptions, a weakened immune system, and an increased risk of injury. However, carbohydrate consumption 1 hour post-exercise, rates of glycogen synthesis and restoration can be significantly enhanced. This can be explained by the changing levels of insulin in the blood as a result of both exercise and carbohydrate intake. Previous studies have recommended that a high GI carbohydrate such as rice, potatoes or bread may be most affective in post exercise recovery alongside a high quality protein source. Furthermore, carbohydrate consumption following prolonged endurance exercise may also result in a favorable hormonal environment for aerobic adaptations.
Carbohydrate is often targeted as the culprit for weight gain and labeled as an inhibitor of weight loss. However, in actual fact the key here is creating a calorie deficit. Experts recommend that reducing overall calorie intake by 500kcal a day is a safe way to lose 1lb of mass per week. A calorie is a calorie however you look at it, so cutting out 500kcal from any macronutrient will have the same effects on weight loss. Therefore, it is encouraged to try and create a deficit from unnecessary food items e.g. Saturated fats, fast food, and sweets. However, you must keep carbohydrate and protein high to support activity and eliminate muscle wastage.
It is important to correctly implement the information provided into your own personal schedule. If you work out in the evening, it may be recommended to have a low carbohydrate breakfast, followed by a moderate carbohydrate lunch and a high carbohydrate dinner (post-exercise). Or if you workout in the morning, just apply the same in reverse e.g. a rich carbohydrate breakfast and lunch, with a low carbohydrate dinner. Following these simple rules will ensure that you can reach your goals without sacrificing your favorite foods.