Making Gains Through Nutrition Part 2 – Carbohydrates

In the first installment, I created an overview of how I recommend our athletes eat pre and post workout for the best output, recovery, and growth possible.

In this installment, I want to break down carbohydrate consumption a bit more. You will learn how to use carbs during a workout and why you would choose the carb sources that you do.

Why carbs? Because our bodies have a whole bunch of ways to make and use fuel- but it has one fuel source it tends to like the most and it uses very easily– carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates (carbs for short) come in all different sizes, shapes, and foods- from gummy bears to bread to potatoes.

carb sources for training

Our bodies break down these carb sources into their component parts. Some might have some protein in them, possibly fiber, most have vitamins and minerals, and most contain some type of sugar. But they all have one thing in common- their primary structure.

Every carbohydrate source is made up of three specific elements (carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen) which are converted in our bodies into glucose molecules. Glucose is the sugar that our bodies use to make our brains work and gives us energy to move, breath, and live. One of the reasons you might feel faint, weak, or dizzy during or after a hard workout is because your blood glucose levels drop- you ran out of a readily available fuel source, and it affects all parts of your body.

To manage those effects and to prevent them from happening at all, learning to consume easily digested readily available carbs at the right time is key.

Easily digested carbs and “readily available” refers to how easily the body can break down a carb source and how quickly that source is available for use- if you eat just straight up table sugar (aka sucrose), our body breaks that down very fast and its almost instantaneously available (that’s the sugar high you might get from candy). If you were to eat a slice of whole grain bread, it might take a little longer.

use gummy bears as a readily available carb source
Gummy bears are high in readily available, easily digested sugar

I mentioned in the first post that you want to consume at least 30 to 40 grams of easily digested carbs a maximum of 90 minutes before your workout, and 30 to 60 grams within the first hour after your workout.

In addition, if you are exercising for more than an hour OR you train more than once a day, I strongly encourage athletes to consume a small amount (20 to 40 grams) of liquid carbs during (intra) your workout as well.

My go-to recommended carb sources BEFORE workouts are simple: bananas, white rice, the plethora of sports bars out there (think high carb, moderate protein, low fat), or a pre-workout supplement or sports drink.

Post workout I recommend white rice, potatoes, or bread/bread products if you tolerate them (my personal favorite post workout are gluten-free English muffins!).

For intra workout, you can find all kinds of carb sources that come in a powder form such as dextrose or Vitargo that can be added to a water bottle, or you can even sip on something like Gatorade or a sports drink.

It often takes experimentation to find what works best for you. But it’s worth it. Learning what your body likes, needs, and wants when it comes to nutrition is an important part of the process to become the athlete you want to be.

Lastly, there are a couple other times you want to be aware of carb consumption. Recent studies have demonstrated the effects on the metabolism of consuming carbs in the morning. Refueling after sleep is important to get you going for the day and maintaining the energy you need. Depending on your goals (fat loss, etc) and when you workout, I suggest trying to eat 40 to 100 grams of carbs within an hour of getting up. See what works for you and how your system tolerates it.

The other thing we want to briefly talk about is something I’ve mentioned before- if you notice that you struggle to sleep soundly, consider having 20 to 40 grams of carbs an hour before bedtime. Our brain uses carbs as we sleep and once it’s used all the stored glycogen in your muscles and livers it struggles to manage sleep modes efficiently. If you are training hard, especially if you come from a low carb diet background- this may make all the difference in the world for you!

For the final installment, we will discuss protein and fat consumption and how they can make or break your workout! Keep your eyes peeled for the last piece of the puzzle, and remember- you are a Ferrari- treat yourself with some TLC!!

Do you need some help figuring out your macros? Contact me or check out my nutrition coaching page for more!

My mission is to help everyone I can become the healthiest, strongest versions of themselves. I am a Crossfit coach, athlete, Health and Nutrition coach, Movement Rehab Specialist, and a grad student completing my masters in Kinesiology with a focus on integrative wellness.

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