Carbohydrates are important!
Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Will they make you fat? Do you need them? What kind? At what times? The questions on carbohydrates seem endless. There are varying approaches, but if you want to get the most from your workouts and train at your peak then quality fuel is critical!
The main role of carbohydrates is to provide energy. When they are digested, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose to provide readily available energy for the body to use quickly and effectively. Carbohydrates are the most important form of fuel for exercise and sports activities. The body can store carbohydrates in the muscles and liver as glycogen, and use these stores as a source of fuel for the brain and muscles during physical activity. These glycogen stores are limited, so it is important to be fully fuelled at the start of any exercise. By not having adequate carbohydrate in your diet for exercise, you may feel tired and lacking in energy and not be able to perform at your best. So, regular intake of carbohydrate-rich foods is important to keep stores topped up. The correct food choices can help ensure the body has enough energy for activity, as well as help aid recovery.
First of all, lets see what the science says around resistance training and carbohydrates..
When you exercise carbohydrate availability to the muscle and CNS can be compromised because when you exercise your carbohydrate stores are being used. Intake of carbohydrates for training vary a lot when considering an individuals mode of training, the intensity and volume of the training.
Current recommendations for carbohydrate intake
Competitive sports people and athletes may require more carbohydrates than an average gym user to match the intensity of their activity level. Estimated carbohydrate needs are outlined and depend on the intensity and duration of the exercise sessions:
Although there are no specific recommendations for exercise and carbohydrates, recommendations have been made on some research which are as follows:
Recommended intake (per kg body weight per day)
3-5 hours of exercise per week - 4-5g
5-7 hours per week - 5-6g
1-2 hours per day - 6-8g
2 + hours per day - 8-10g
It is well understood that carbohydrate rich diets optimise performance in endurance-based training and competition. However, the specific requirements for individuals who’s training is specifically resistance have yet to be fully established so please use the above as a rough guide.
Is there a post exercise anabolic window?
This topic has been up for debate in many research studies and reviews. The basis of this involves the consumption of primarily protein and carbohydrate in and around an exercise session. It is designed to maximise muscle adaptations and facilitate the repair of damaged muscle tissue and replenish glycogen stores. There is actually not a lot of evidence to suggest that this concept is legitimate.
Disclaimer: These recommendations have been taken from recent research on the topic but the requirements of carbohydrates with regular resistance training have been inconsistent. Further research is needed to establish the role of carbohydrate intake in resistance-based exercise including hypotrophy and strength training.
When do I have these carbohydrates and what shall I have?
A pre workout meal should increase glycogen levels in the body to help prevent catabolism (catabolism is very unlikely anyway unless you haven’t eaten for days).
An example of a good pre workout meal is: (depending on when you go to the gym) 1 hour pre workout – Yoghurt, granola and fruit
If you eat 2 or more hours before you go to the gym make sure you are eating more
If you are serious about lifting and want to gain the best results, refuelling your body after a workout is one of the most important parts of building muscle and recovery. There is no specific time in which you should eat after a meal (in the science) but don’t leave it a long time therefore eat within at least 2 hours of training.
An example of a good post workout meal is: Chicken, potatoes and vegetables
Most of your carbohydrates you can try to eat around your workout which is when your body will need it most.
Lastly, remember its not all about the carbs, make sure your pre and post workout meals are balanced. Always make sure you drink plenty of water to stay hydrated during any type of exercise and throughout the day.