Carb timing and peri-workout nutrition has been examined extensively over the years.
There are as many strategies around optimizing nutrition as there are people who will tell you about them. I want to keep it simple.
In recent years, carbs have become the most controversial and perhaps misunderstood of the macronutrients.
But let’s face it… The world needs villains!.
Where fat was once demonized as the primary cause of heart attacks, obesity, and other health problems, modern science has proven that’s simply not the case.
Excessive carb consumption can be far worse. It can lead to increased fat storage, higher blood lipid levels, and slowed metabolism.
Proper carb timing and balance within a structured nutrition plan focused on optimizing body composition (i.e. getting you shredded and muscular) is the key to using carbs properly.
Your goal when exercising should be to increase anabolism (growth) and prevent catabolism (breakdown). Which means growing lean mass and preventing your body from using what lean mass gains you make as fuel for your workout.
If you find yourself getting soft The truth is that cutting back on carbs may be the smart play if you want to be the fittest, leanest, healthiest you you can be.
But “cutting back” isn’t the same as “cutting out”.
You can’t possibly expect to eliminate all carbs from your diet. Not only is it nearly impossible, it’s actually very unhealthy. Your body needs carbs in order to function. Remember that carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source unless you are doing a fat adapted nutritional program.
While your goal is to encourage your body to burn more energy from stored fat than blood glucose or muscle glycogen, you still need carbs in your diet and in particular to support your exercise program.
You should be using carbs for the following purpose:
- Readily available fuel source to prevent glycogen depletion during training
- Maintain blood glucose concentration to feed both the muscular and nervous system
- Maintain muscle glycogen status at full capacity after training
- Increased muscle blood flow (enhanced creatine, glucose, and amino acid uptake)
The real secret is in the timing of the carbs you eat. When eaten at the right times of day, a carbs can be the energy boost your body needs to power through an intense workout or get through a long morning of work.
I can’t stress this more emphatically: when it comes to intake, carb timing is everything!
Below, we’re going to get into everything you need to know about what types of carbs to eat, how, and when. By the time you reach the end of this page, you’ll have a clear idea of how to include carbs in your daily diet.
The Types of Carbs
Let’s keep things as simple as possible. Remember, not all carbs are created equal! There are two types of carbs:
- Simple carbs Think fast absorption and often associated with poor choices, not in every case but typically speaking. Think cakes, cookies, white flour, white bread, noodles, soda, candies, juices, fruit drinks, and other products made with refined and artificial sugars.
- Complex carbs are found in foods that have a lot of nutritional value and/or fiber. Think fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, potatoes, and whole grains. This includes both starchy carbs (like potatoes) and fiber-rich carbs (like fruits and veggies). These are sometimes called good carbs.
It’s pretty clear that complex carbs are the better choice in terms of overall health.
But simple sugars have a place in your diet as well. If used correctly, a bit of simple sugar can make a huge difference in your day.
Carb Timing and When to Eat Simple Carbs
Let’s get one thing straight: refined sugars are always going to be less healthy, despite the fact they may serve some purpose related to your training or daily function.
Often they contain zero nutritional value and can place a massive glycemic load on your body.
No sane person would ever recommend refined sugar as “healthy” choice over a complex carb.
But “simple” sugars can be natural, too. For example, fresh-squeeze orange juice is a simple sugar. It contains no fiber to slow down the absorption of the sugar. Thankfully, there are still nutrients in the juice, but the elimination of the fiber makes it a simple sugar.
When’s the best time to eat (or drink) simple sugars? The answer: right before a workout, intra-workout and immediately post workout.
You may choose to use a supplement such as Vitargo as your pre, intra and post workout.
Your specific carb needs are going to be goal dependant. Muscle gain and fat loss are the most common so it is impossible to give you a definitive intake measure.
Generally, giving your body a small dose of simple sugar 20 to 40 minutes before a workout can provide you with a boost of energy. 100 to 200 calories (25 -50 grams) of simple sugar will ensure that you have glucose in your bloodstream when you work out.
You’ll find you start the workout with more energy than you would if you went into the training in a fasted state. This is especially useful for those who work out first thing in the morning. A cup of natural fruit (that is quick absorbing) can help you to push to the end of the workout even if you haven’t eaten.
Why simple sugar, you ask? The answer: there’s no fiber.
High-fiber foods are great for your digestive system, but not so great for your workout. Fiber is slow to digest. If you have a lot of it in your stomach when you train, you could suffer from indigestion and bloating. Gastrointestinal issues breaks 1 of the 4 laws of peri-workout nutritional programming…which is – Thou Must Not Have GI Issues During Training.
Also, the fact that your stomach is busy digesting high-fiber foods means more blood and energy is being sent to your digestive system, rather than to your muscles.
If you work out first thing in the morning, consider having a dose of simple sugars to help you wake up and get through the training session. Just 100 to 200 calories is more than enough!
When to Eat Starchy Carbs
Starchy carbs are anything that contains a lot of “starch”, not necessarily sugar. For example, potatoes, whole grain bread, quinoa, oats, long grain rice, and yams are all starchy carbs.
These carbs tend to fall squarely in the middle of “good” and “bad” depending on who you talk to .
If eaten at the right time, they can provide the body with the energy needed to repair muscle and restore expended muscle glycogen.
If eaten at the wrong time, they can slow down your body and lead to a higher calorie (fat) storage rate.
So when is the right time to eat starchy carbs?
The answer: shortly after your workout.
For up to 3 hours after a high-intensity or resistance training workout, your body is working at double-speed to make repairs, replenish expended calories, and restore a the energy balance to your body. This means your metabolism is adapting to creating the energy you need to support you goals and is firing on all cylinders.
If you eat carbs in that timeframe, you do two things:
You replenish lost energy. The fact that the carbs are fairly quick-acting means you have a rapid infusion of energy, but there’s enough fiber to slow down carb absorption rate so there’s no massive surge of calories.
You increase insulin. Insulin is a GOOD hormone to raise post-workout. It helps to increase protein intake in your muscles, speeding up repairs and replacing the energy you’ve burned.
(Note: An increase of insulin at other times in the day can cause your body to store fat, but raising insulin levels after a training session can have anabolic effects.)
A starchy carb makes for a great post-workout food. If you eat it with enough protein (a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein), you can help your body absorb the amino acids needed to repair your muscles. It’s the perfect way to speed up recovery from an intense workout!
If you are an athlete preparing for an event that requires a lot of energy—such as a marathon, a 10-round boxing match, or a 2-hour soccer game—carb-loading is a good option to consider.
Essentially, carbo-loading is eating large quantities of starchy carbs in the days leading up to the event. This saturates your body with energy (bloodstream, liver, and fat storage) that can be easily accessed during the athletic event. Carbo-loading is a trick that can enhance athletic performance and raise endurance.
When to Eat Fiber-Rich Carbs
The beauty of fiber-rich carbs is that they are absorbed much more slowly than simple and starchy carbs. The fiber in the foods prevents the sugars or starches from flooding your liver and bloodstream. The carbs are still absorbed first, but they take much longer for your body to digest.
Fruit contains more sugar than other fiber-rich carbs, which is why it’s recommended you only eat a serving or two per day. However, fruit is also the best source of antioxidants. If you increase your fruit intake to 2-3 servings (especially of low-sugar fruits like berries), you’re not in danger of gaining weight or overloading on carbs.
Veggies are a bit of a mixed bag. Some, like carrots and tomatoes, contain a lot more carbs than you’d expect from a veggie. Others, like celery, jicama, and spinach, contain almost NO carbs, along with A LOT of fiber and other nutrients.
Low-carb veggies are an excellent addition to your diet, and should be the most prominent part of every meal. Higher-carb veggies can still be added to your menu, but you’d do well to consume them in moderation.
Legumes like lentils, beans, chickpeas, and peas are an excellent source of carbs, but they have a lot of fiber to slow down carb absorption rate. At the same time, they also provide plant-based protein, vitamins, and minerals. These are some of the healthiest foods on the planet, and a staple of a balanced, high-protein diet.
So, knowing the different types of fiber-rich carbs, when should you be eating them?
Fruits – Fruits are good as a pre-workout food, as they contain a lot of quick-acting sugar and only a small amount of fiber to slow down absorption rate. There’s also less fiber to cause digestive upset and bloating when you train. Having a serving of fruit 60 to 90 minutes before your workout is a good way to raise energy levels.
Fruit also makes for a good post-workout snack. A single piece of fruit contains a hefty dose of sugars that will replenish lost energy. The fiber can also work with the other foods you eat (protein and starchy carbs) to shut down your appetite for a few hours after eating.
Veggies and Legumes – These foods can be eaten pretty much any time of day, EXCEPT for in the 2 hours leading up to your workout. Remember that the high fiber content of these foods can cause stomach upset, slow digestion, and cause bloating. However, at any other time of the day—even in the afternoon and evening—veggies and legumes are a great food to eat.
Try pairing some cottage cheese and raspberries as an evening snack. Raspberries pound for pound are the highest fiber content fruit. That mixed with the full fat and protein of cottage cheese will satisfy many of your nutritional requirements to promote a healthy functioning body.
Carb Timing at Night
If your goal is to get fit, build muscle, and lose body fat, you should never, ever eat excess carbs in the evening!
Some carb consumption is a good thing and supports healthy sleep.
I am talking about the destructive behaviour such as potato chips etc… especially after your glass of vino.
Remember: carbs are your body’s primary energy source. That means they provide your body with the fuel you burn as you walk around your house, train at the gym, or do your daily work.
But in the evening, you’re trying to help your body power down for the night. You likely don’t need any excess energy, as you’ve finished with all of the active activities for the day. If you have timed your intake properly you should have replenished muscle glycogen for your next day’s activities.
If you eat carbs in the evening, you’re giving your body a hefty dose of energy without forcing it to use that energy for anything more than what is required to support activities associated with your Basal Metabolic Rate.
So what does your body do? It turns that extra energy into fat and stores it “for later”. The body is clever like that, always squirreling away energy (in fat form) in case of a food shortage later on.
But the next day, when you eat normal amounts of food, your body will realize that it doesn’t need to keep that stored energy active and available. After all, you’re giving it everything it requires, so it can turn that energy into inert fat.
Eating carbs in the evening is the fastest way to gain weight—and body fat, the wrong type of weight!
If you’re hungry for an evening snack, what should you eat?
- Protein, especially a slow-acting protein like casein. This helps to speed up muscle repair and recovery overnight.
- Probiotics, like kefir or sauerkraut, which provide your body with beneficial bacteria that aid in digestion.
- Berries, like blueberries or raspberries, that offer antioxidants and fiber without an overdose of sugar.
- Dark chocolate, which is loaded with antioxidants to improve brain function, heart health, and metabolic function.
The truth is that late-night snacking is a BAD idea for most people, so you’re better off finishing your day’s eating with an early dinner.
Fat Loss and Muscle building goals can require different strategies. Carb timing through a well planned and coached nutritional program can serve both goals simultaneously with world class results.