There is so much confusion out there about carbs and how, when, and why to eat them, so let’s clear some of that up right now.
If part of your New Year’s nutritional resolutions was to cut out carbs, let’s toss that away and substitute it with a much better resolution.
Learn how to use your carbs wisely by focusing on nutrient timing.
This may be a bit technical for some of you, but stick with me here. It’s VERY valuable information for you to understand and then use.
The reality is that carbohydrates are needed for both aerobic and anaerobic exercise, as the body uses muscle glycogen as a primary fuel source during exercise. So while it may be tempting to swear off carbs altogether, keep in mind that depleting muscle glycogen results in reduced muscle production and muscle weakness. Those are not exactly the ideal conditions for having an effective workout (or the energy to continue to work out on a regular basis).
Instead, use carbs more wisely! Growing research in the area of nutrient timing shows just how effective carbohydrates can be in terms of proper fueling and refueling before, during, and after exercise.
Phase 1 (the ‘Energy Phase’): This phase occurs before and during a workout, and is designed to increase nutrient delivery to your muscles sparing glycogen and protein loss, minimizing muscle damage and nutritionally preparing the body for recovery. Proper fueling in this phase actually stimulates protein synthesis and aids in the rate of muscle recovery post-exercise.
Phase 2 (the ‘Anabolic Phase’): This phase is typically defined as within 45 minutes to an hour post-exercise, which is when nutrients are most needed in order to make gains in terms of muscular strength and endurance. Research has shown that consuming carbohydrates within this first hour after exercise helps increase protein synthesis and replenish glycogen stores that provide the body with what it needs for recovery.
Phase 3 (the ‘Growth Phase’): This phase is defined as the remainder of the day, and is all about muscle strengthening, repairing and growth. In fact, consuming a mix of proteins and carbohydrates within 3 hours post-exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on stimulating protein synthesis.
So how can you translate the science into practical tips you can follow at home? Glad you asked!
- For the average exerciser (working out for about 60 minutes or less), about an hour or so before a workout, aim to consume a combination of easily digested carbohydrates along with protein in roughly a 4:1 ratio. Need snack ideas? Try yogurt with a sliced banana or perhaps string cheese with a serving of whole-grain crackers.
- Within an hour after your workout, aim to consume roughly a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. Post workout snacks can include a cup of cooked oatmeal with ¼ cup of raisins, two slices of whole grain toast with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or an energy bar and a sports drink.
- For the remainder of the day (especially within 4 hours of exercise), focus on enjoying a mix of complex carbohydrates and healthy proteins in roughly a 1:5 ratio. Examples might be tuna in a small whole wheat pita, or grilled chicken with a small serving of brown rice and vegetables.
Your body will thank you for learning how to best use carbohydrates so that you’ll reach your fitness goals and have plenty of energy everyday.