I wanted to talk about carbs in this post because it has been a hot topic of late at my facility – Scenic City Strength & Fitness. Many of our clients have been struggling with how many carbs to eat and when to eat them so I thought I would share my approach on the subject with you. This was intended as an opener in my weekly newsletter but quickly took on a life of it’s own so I decided to shift it here.
Disclaimer – there is literally a TON of information on this topic out there on the internet. What follows is the culmination of my attempts to boil this mountain of info into something easy to understand and quick to implement for my clients at SCSF who are interested in being lean AND having great performance at the same time (read everyone!). Since this is such an in-depth topic and based on what we are seeing in our clients, I expect/plan on revising this post many times going forward! This is just the FIRST post of many.
A few general principles to start off with…
– Carbs are absolutely essential if you are working out with good degree of intensity. They not only provide fuel for intense workouts but also facilitate recovery as well. An easy way to gauge your intensity is the “talk” test. If you lose the ability to talk while doing an exercise, it’s intense. If you have a lot of these exercises in one workout, you will benefit from using carbs in your diet.
“But what about low carbs diets? Aren’t they supposed to be the best for cutting fat?” you might ask. From my experience and from what I’ve studied, low carb diets (<100g’s per day) work BEST in people with low activity levels or low/moderate exercise routines. Quite simply – they aren’t doing enough intensity to require a lot of carbs (i.e. their body can use fat as a fuel source).
– The PROPER use of carbs can AID you in your efforts to perform well, LOSE body fat and get leaner. This is like the holy grail of fitness right? Well, this is the exact place where many of my clients have been struggling. Either they are afraid of carbs from all the low carb media buzz and don’t enough of them or they don’t know where to stick them in their day or they eat too many of them (my typical problem).
To keep it simple – if you are being active or working out with leanness and performance as your goals, you need to keep your carbs clustered around these activities. The reason? When you eat carbs, your body will release insulin to get those carbs out of your blood stream. They will either be used by the muscles or stored in the liver or fat cells. What is one of the (many) factors determines where insulin takes the carbs? Your activity level/state of exercise! Basically, when you eat carbs right before, during or after workouts, they are much more likely to end up in your muscles and not your fat cells.
Here’s the sweet spot you are looking for…
You eat a small amount of carbs before workout which begins raising your blood sugar (via insulin). Your workout begins and you start actively using those carbs (plus an added carbs during workout) as insulin is moving the carbs (i.e.sugar) into your muscles. In the post workout period, insulin continues to feed the carbs right into the muscles for recovery purposes.
Important side note #1 – the addition of protein to the carbs in the pre/intra/post workout periods makes this process even better!!! But that’s for another post.
Important side note #2 – the ultimate intensity of level of a workout dictates the importance and amount of carbs you can probably tolerate. As a general rule – the harder a workout becomes, the amount of carbs you can eat for fuel/recovery increases.
– Using carbs IMPROPERLY will contribute to fat GAIN and can/will negatively impact performance. Building on the previous point – if you eat carbs while inactive or performing low intensity activity (remember the talk test), insulin will take most those carbs right into your fat cells or liver. This is something you definitely want to avoid at all costs. Also, if you take in a ton of carbs 3-4 hours before a workout or game, you are more likely to experience a blood sugar crash,which can muck up your performance. I’ve actually seen teams of athletes LOSE games over this because they ate too many carbs at the wrong times!
Here is how you would apply these principles for a variety of workout set ups. I have used the following abbreviations and symbols in an attempt to keep things easy to follow. All of these set ups assume a pre and post workout snack. However, everyone is different and you have to tinker with your individual plan accordingly to find the BEST fit for YOU!
C = Carbs P = Protein F = Healthy Fat
↑ = High Amount ↓ = Low Amount ↔ = Moderate Amount
Early AM Workout
Wake Up > Pre-WO Snack C↓P↓F↓ > Workout (5-6am) > Post WO Snack C↑P↔F ↓> Meal 1 C↑P↔F ↔> Snack C↓P↑F↔ > Meal 2 C↓P↔F↔ > Snack C↓P↑F↔ > Meal 3 C↓P↔F↔ > Get In Bed
Wake Up > Meal 1 C↓P↑F ↑> Snack C↓P↑F↔ > Meal 2 C↓P↑F↔ > Pre-WO Snack C↔P↔F↓ > Post WO snack C↑P↔F↓> Meal 3 C↔P↑F↔ > Get In Bed
Wake Up > Meal 1 C↓P↑F ↑> Snack C↓P↔F↔ > Meal 2 C↓P↔F↔ > Snack C↓P↔F ↔> Pre-WO snack C↔P↔F ↓ > Post WO Snack C↑P↔F ↔> Meal 3 C↑P↔F↔ > Get in Bed
Again – these are just examples for you. Variables like workout placement/type, work schedules, sports schedules, and a host of others will all affect your daily plan. You will have to experiment and find out your BEST fit. However, once you do, you path to great performance AND leanness will get much easier.
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