What Is Carb Timing and Can It Boost Your Workout Performance?

The macronutrients known as carbohydrates, which include sugars, starches, and fiber, are converted by the digestive system into glucose, or blood sugar. After entering cells through the circulation, glucose can either be utilized right away for energy or stored as glycogen, a type of sugar that can be used as fuel in the future, in our muscles and liver.

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Carbs offer you the energy you need to work out.

Your body breaks down protein in your muscles for fuel if you exercise without first consuming carbohydrates, as you typically don’t consume enough of these macronutrients in your diet to have a significant store of glycogen in your muscles. Using these protein reserves during intensive activities might increase your susceptibility to exhaustion and dehydration.

How Your Exercise May Be Affected by Different Carbs

Simple and complex carbohydrates play diverse functions in the energy supply of an exercise.

Easy Carbs

According to the Cleveland Clinic, simple carbohydrates are sugars that the body breaks down fast, releasing glucose into the circulation very quickly.

There are two kinds of sugar: added and natural. Fresh fruit and milk are good sources of natural sugar, but processed meals and beverages like soda, fruit juice, and packaged sweets frequently include added sugar. (Incidentally, Rice Krispie Treats belong to the unhealthy latter group.)

This kind of carb might provide you a quick energy boost that is followed by exhaustion.

Simple carbohydrates should be avoided in your regular diet, according to most trained dietitians, although these meals might be useful before an intense workout. Specifically, the National Academy of Sports Medicine states that simple carbohydrates are ideal if you eat before working out, especially in the morning, since they will provide you with fuel that is readily available.

Simple carbohydrates before an exercise have been associated with advantages like increased endurance for decades. In a prior research, for instance, experienced cyclists doing endurance tests became weary after 134 minutes if they did not consume simple carbohydrates before to their training, but they were able to continue for 157 minutes if they did. Another research that included cyclists discovered that when they consumed simple carbohydrates prior to exercise, their muscles used less glycogen during workouts and they were able to exercise for longer periods of time before becoming weary than those who did not consume simple carbohydrates prior to exercise.

The Academy advises consuming drinks or smoothies with 300–400 calories within 60 minutes of doing exercise due to their easy digestion. Eating a 1,000 calorie lunch two to four hours before a longer or more intensive workout will help improve your endurance.

The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises against choosing added sources, like soda or sweets, when choosing simple carbohydrates. Instead, natural sources, such fruit or milk with redeeming nutritional properties, are preferred. Men should consume no more than nine teaspoons of added sugar per day, according to the American Heart Association, while women should only consume six teaspoons.

Complex Carbohydrates

Fiber and starches are examples of complex carbohydrates, and they can help to improve exercise performance.

These provide more steady blood sugar levels because they take longer for the body to process than simple carbohydrates. The Cleveland Clinic lists vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, nuts and seeds, and fresh fruit that still has the peel on as examples of complex carbohydrates.

One advantage of eating more whole grains is that, according to a September 2021 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition, doing so can help retain muscular mass and increase our muscles’ protein reserves. The effects of a diet high in whole grains and a diet high in processed grains, such as white bread, were evaluated in this study. It was shown that those who consumed whole grains outperformed those who did not on tests of walking speed, had larger muscular protein reserves, and had superior overall muscle performance.

Are Carbs Necessary for Moderate-Intensity Exercise?

Although the advantages of both simple and complex carbohydrates seem great, you might not even need to adjust your carb consumption before working exercise.

Director of the exercise and performance nutrition laboratory at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, Chad Kersick, PhD, believes there’s a simple method to determine if your activity is strenuous enough to need extra carbohydrates at the beginning. We refer to it as the “talk test.”

This is definitely a low-intensity workout if you can speak coherently in full sentences while exercising, according to Dr. Kersick. You will be able to speak for only a few words at a time during a moderate-intensity workout before you find yourself gasping for air. You’re working out hard if it’s difficult to converse at all.

You don’t need to consume carbohydrates before a low- to moderate-intensity activity lasting less than 60 minutes, but if you enjoy working out this way, it probably won’t hurt, according to Kersick.

What About Carbs for Excessive-Intensity Workouts?

According to Tiller, you should consider fuelling yourself while you work out harder and longer. Here’s when simple carbohydrates come in handy.

“It’s advised to consume carbohydrates after exercising for 90 to 120 minutes,” explains Tiller. Any decent supply of carbohydrates that won’t upset your stomach will do, according to Tiller. “This is usually in the form of sports drinks or gels because they’re simple sugars, absorbed quickly by the gut and delivered to the muscle,” Tiller adds.

Sports drinks and gels could be useful in this situation since they provide you with the necessary energy boost just as your body is about to deplete its reserves of glycogen, keeping you from accessing the protein stores in your muscles. However, if you’re not a professional athlete or training for a marathon, sports drinks and gels shouldn’t be your go-to for shorter, less strenuous exercises. In those situations, they’ll only add more calories, which can make you gain weight and create dangerous blood sugar spikes.


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