Your body gets energy from carbohydrates and fats.
This is key, as knowing that if our energy levels are high, then losing weight, lifting weights and general working out and living is actually possible.
If you don’t have a good understanding of this, then fat loss becomes hard. Or maybe not even at all or even just temporary fat loss.
You’ll also struggle to train with any proper intensity as you’ll be running on empty.
Carbs mainly come in sugar and starch. These are the main sources of fuel for our body.
The energy gets stored as glycogen and is stored in the liver, muscles and brain. 100g of glycogen is stored in the liver and 400g is stored in our muscles. The sugar and starch is broken down here and used as fuel and energy for our body and cells.
The purpose of this is to maintain steady blood sugar levels. If there is a dip in our sugar levels, glycogen in the liver is broken down to release glucose.
The more active you are and the greater the muscle mass, the more carbs you need to consume.
Ideally our carbs should come from fruit and veg. Though for the vast majority of people this isn’t the case.
Sadly too many people now get them from heavy processed foods and fizzy drinks. These are very high in calories and very low in nutrients.
This results in being overfeed but undernourished.
When it comes to carb sources, you typically think of potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, that sort of thing. While they aren’t as good as fruit and veg, they’re not awful. The likes of sweet potatoes are a great source of carbs.
However, the likes of white bread for example, are heavy processed. White pasta is the same. So if you are eating these, make sure you go for the likes of brown bread and brown pasta.
There are many factors to consider when it comes to how many carbs you should eat. If you really wanted to, you can live without eating any carbs. Though good luck trying to work out without any carbs in your diet.
A nice warm bowl of carb rich porridge in the morning is stored in your muscles as glycogen and ready for you to tap into for whatever physical activity it is you do.
Daily intake typically ranges from 3-7gs per kg of body weight per day for low and moderate intensity daily training.
The likes of a serious athlete may need to consume around 7-12g per kg of body weight per day.
To promote fast and effective post exercise recovery, it is recommended that you consume 1-1.5g of carbs per kg of body weight per hour within 30mins of finishing your work out. Then up to 2 hour intervals up to 6 hours after your work out.
If you are planning on training again within 8 hours of finishing your first work out, it is important that you start to refuel as soon as possible.
High GI (glycemic index) carbs will help promote faster recovery. This is one of the few times where it’s good to eat fast acting sugary carbs.
For recovery periods of 24 hours +, the type and timing of carbs is less critical. Though this doesn’t mean that you can eat high sugar processed food 12 hours later and say it’s part of your recovery.
It is important that you eat something before you exercise. This will fuel your body and help keep your blood sugar levels in check.
It’s recommended that your pre exercise meal has 1-4g of carbs per kg of body weight. This will depend on the intensity of the exercise and how long it lasts. You shouldn’t fuel your body as if you are going to do a half marathon when you’re actually going to do a hour of yoga.
If you’re work out is less than 45mins, there is no performance advantage to consuming carbs during exercise. So if you are doing a 30min run for example, there’s no need to be consuming a sports drink as you go.
For 45-75min of exercise, very small amounts of carbs can be slightly beneficial.
Exercise that is 1 hour and longer, would benefit from some carbs. 30-60g of carbs helps:
1. Maintains blood sugar levels
2. Spare muscle glycogen stores
3. Delays fatigue
4. Increase endurance
I want to start by saying that is for long periods of exercise. You do not need to carb load to go do a typical weight session in the gym.
Carb loading is tried and tested for improving performance and endurance.
It is thought that the average athlete can only store enough muscle glycogen to sustain around 90mins of exercise. After 90mins your glycogen levels are depleted and fatigue sets in.
Sports drinks, gels and even some fruit can help. But studies over many years have shown that increasing your carb intake 3 days before, could be the most effective way to fully fuel before a big event.
So staying to the higher end of 10-12g of carbs per kg of body weight, maybe even 15g, would be beneficial before a long period of exercise.
There was a test of 18 runners who had to complete a 30km time trial. They split them into 2 groups, a normal diet group and a high crab diet group, when they retested, the carbohydrate group ran faster during the last 5km and that they ran the 30km faster overall after carb loading.
So carbs are not the enemy that you read about in a lot of magazines or that you hear from fad diet fanatics.
If you know how carbs work, how they fuel you, you can get the most out of your workouts and get the best results.