Every workout we aim to fulfil a sense of achievement and enjoyment. However this can sometimes be compromised through feeling empty on energy, maybe feeling sluggish, or even lethargic. One of many contributing factors to creating the perfect training environment could be due to the food choices we make prior to a workout.
When setting up the mind-set for your perfect workout we need to fuel both our muscles and brain to function effectively to deliver the best performance. Anybody that trains with me will understand that we don’t settle for average. You need to be in the mind-set to get the best results from applying your best effort, “Average people get average results from average amount of effort.”
The Carbohydrate Conundrum is a debate every gym goer, runner, or fitness coach will have with another person to eventually agree on an opinion which could easily be changed when the next person walks into the changing rooms. To cut a long story short, everybody requires carbohydrates in their diet for fuel the muscles to perform daily activities from standing up to walking, thinking, and blinking. The important factors you should consider when determining the foods to eat and avoid before your workouts are:
1. How does my body respond to carbs?
Each and everyone have a varied tolerance to carbs therefore this should be managed on how you feel when you’ve eaten carbs. For example, if you feel sluggish and lethargic after a large bowl of rice then you have low-tolerance to carbs and should avoid carbs pre-workout as you will not meet the physical performance goals set in your session. On the other hand you could be have a high tolerance to carbs and be bouncing off the walls when your fuelled up with carbs, that sounds like a workout you don’t want to miss! This individual tends to be naturally lean from experience and may perform better with a fistful of fibrous carbohydrates before exercise. If you do not know your tolerance to carbs, then why not perform your own experiment and test your carb tolerance. Simply wake up in the morning and rate your energy levels on a scale of 1-10 before a high carb breakfast consisting of fast and slow release sugars. Repeat this assessment and rate your energy levels around 45-60 minutes after your meal. If you score 4 or below in your second assessment then I would say you have a low tolerance to carbs.
2. What are the aims of your workout?
Are you aiming to test your physical endurance and increase your running distance or set a new personal best 10k? Alternatively does your workout involves strength-based exercises, plyometric power movements, or short bursts of high intensity exercise? The pre-workout ritual and food choices you make 45 minutes before your workout will have an impact on your performance. Without a doubt there is a demand for carbohydrates in your diet if you’re an individual that works out moderately 3 times per week and even more so if you’re a professional athlete who trains 2-3 times a day. Our muscles will store carbohydrates as glycogen which is fuel ready to go and can be used directly from our working muscles when exercising. The duration and intensity of our workout will dictate the ‘glycogen debt’ we have post–workout. If you choose to eat carbs just before your workout as you believe this will increase your glycogen stores in your muscles then you’re wrong. The carbohydrates you consume 4-24 hours before your workout will be stored as glycogen. Therefore if you have planned an endurance-based session, aiming to increase the muscle size, or get “the pump” then consuming carbohydrates 4+ hours before your workout is paramount in maximising your glycogen stores for enhanced performance. In every workout we want to create a state of brain stimulation to ‘rev up’ your neurological drive and mental focus in order to bring about the best training response for your body. Just like Arnold Schwarneggar once quoted about his philosophy to training and success, “Leave no stone unturned.” Therefore the inhibiting effects of consuming carbs 45 minutes before your workout is linked to serotonin release, which is also known as the ‘sleep hormone.’ Serotonin triggers a calming effect to the body and often leads to that sluggish and lethargic feeling. Surely we can all relate to that feeling after eating a big meal filled with carbohydrates. We should aim to choose foods high in good fats and protein before your workout and lower in carbs. Some great examples I would recommend for anyone about to exercise is nuts, seeds, oily-fishes like salmon, and avocados as this will allow our body to oxidise fatty-acids for fuel during our workouts. Surely this is an aim of your training regime to use fat for fuel.
3. You’ve got to earn your carbs!
Carbohydrates have a time and place in your workout and diet. First and foremost, you need to earn your carbs. They are best consumed in and around your workouts. When training for fat loss and your initial nutritional approach is a diet low in carbs then choosing to consume carbohydrates in and around your workouts is a great way for your body replenish glycogen stores utilise carbohydrates much more effectively whilst oxidise fatty acids for energy. Why not become a fat-burning furnace. As previously mentioned about the release of serotonin hormone linked with the intake of carbs therefore back-loading your carbohydrates towards bedtime is a benefit to improved sleep quality, rest, and recovery. If you’re looking for ways to implement this into your training regime then choose 20-30g fast-absorbing sugars post workout depending on whether you’re aiming to increase muscle size you can increase this intake or achieve a leaner physique. Also evaluate the effect on performance in your workouts, and then you can manipulate this to suit your training needs.
Thanks for reading my blog and this is an extension on the importance on nutrition and the role carbohydrates play in your diet and when to use carbs to help you achieve your body composition and performance goals. I hope this has empowered your knowledge.
Thanks Jake Wood