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Carbohydrates - Workout - Carbohydrates

Hayley Irvin provides three reasons as to why you should eat carbohydrates before and after a workout.

Carbohydrates are a lightning rod in the diet industry. According to the original food pyramid, nearly half of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. However, several popular diets suggest limiting your carbohydrate consumption or cutting it out entirely. With so many conflicting ideas floating around, it can be difficult to figure out the number of carbohydrates you should eat every day and the optimal time to eat them.

Fortunately, there is a time and a place for everything - including carbohydrates. For many people, the best time to eat carbohydrates is before and after exercising. Here are three reasons you should start incorporating carbohydrates into your pre- and post-workout routine.

Carbohydrates are great sources of energy

If you need energy before, during, or after a workout, carbohydrates are a great option. Because they are relatively simple molecules made up of hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, carbohydrates are some of the easiest foods for our stomachs to digest, providing a quick boost of energy for your mind and body.

The simplest sugar, glucose, is absorbed into the body almost immediately when eaten, but sugar molecules in more complex carbohydrates take longer to break down and digest. Simple carbohydrates like fruit, honey, and dairy products are best eaten 1-1.5 hours before you hit the gym, whereas starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, oats, and whole grains should be consumed 2-4 hours before a workout. Always opt for unrefined whole grains and avoid refined white bread and pasta at all costs.

Extra glucose that is stored in the liver is referred to as glycogen. When the body is not receiving healthy sugars from food, the liver taps into its glycogen reserves to provide the muscles and central nervous system with glucose. Because muscles require blood sugar to stretch and contract, it is vitally important to have a healthy blood sugar level before exercising.

This is especially true for longer or more intense workouts that use more of the body's resources. If your blood sugar is low when you start a workout, your body will be forced to use the glycogen stored in your liver to provide your muscles with the energy they need to perform. Your muscles will get tired sooner, cutting your workout short. To avoid this, try eating carbohydrates before your next workout - be sure you eat the right carbohydrates at the right time.

Carbohydrates are easier to digest than fats and proteins

Protein and fat molecules are longer and more complex than the simple sugars found in carbohydrates. Because it takes longer for our bodies to break down these complex molecular structures, protein and fat are often thought to be longer-lasting sources of energy than carbohydrates. However, this may not be exactly what your body needs right before a workout.

To help digest the complex molecules in protein and fat, our bodies pull oxygen away from other areas of the body, like our bloodstream and muscles. Less oxygen in your muscles when you are working out can contribute to muscle fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, and a lack of motivation.

Additionally, because it takes more time to digest protein and fat, the nutrients in them take longer to absorb into our bodies. If you drink a protein shake half an hour before going to the gym and only workout for 1-2 hours, your body will not absorb most of the protein until the end of your workout. And if you have not eaten any carbohydrates that day, you will essentially be running on empty the entire time. Being properly fuelled during a workout will help your muscles perform at their peak capacity, allowing you to make the most out of your time.

This is not to say that protein is not important after a workout. Protein gets broken down into amino acids necessary for muscle growth and cellular repair, and the long-lasting energy they can provide helps keep you fuller and more aware for longer periods.

It can be beneficial to eat both protein and carbohydrates before and after a workout but be sure to adjust your ratio accordingly. For example, try eating more carbohydrates than protein before your workout to give yourself the energy to push through it, and eat more protein than carbohydrates afterwards to encourage muscle growth and cellular repair.

Before and after a workout are the best times to eat carbohydrates

We know that extra glucose is stored in the liver, but what happens once the reserve tank is full? Unfortunately, it gets stored, too – as fat. This is a very undesirable outcome for people trying to lose weight, which explains the preponderance of low-carbohydrate and no-carbohydrate diets.

Eating carbohydrates can be a bit of a Cornelian dilemma. We need carbohydrates, but if we eat too many the extra gets stored in the most unflattering of places. Many people who cut out carbohydrates entirely experience weakness and fatigue, especially while exercising, so no-carbohydrate diets may not be the best choice.

The trick is to utilize every gram of carbohydrate you consume during the day, so there is not any extra for your body store. The best way to burn carbohydrates is to work out – the earlier, the better. This way, you can have your carbohydrates and eat them, too.

To help make the most of your workout and your daily carbohydrate intake, eat some simple carbohydrates like fruit, yoghurt or chocolate milk before hitting the gym. Perhaps even during your workout, if you need the energy. After exercising, go for some starchy complex carbohydrates to top off your energy and glucose levels. Combine with lean protein to give your muscles that extra boost. If you want something easier to transport back and forth from the gym, protein bars are low-calorie options loaded with all of the protein and carbohydrates your body needs before and after a workout.

Losing weight and getting in shape is a difficult process, requiring much of your time, energy, and motivation. However, with enough research and dedication, it can be done. More than anything, be aware of what you are eating and always strive to eat a balanced diet complete with protein, healthy fats, and carbohydrates. Start incorporating healthy choices at every meal, and soon these healthy changes will become healthy habits. There is no better time than the present to start living a healthier life, so start today!

Page Reference

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  • HAYLEY, I. (2015) Carbohydrates - Workout - Carbohydrates [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Hayley Irvin is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. When she's not creating awesome content for Marketing Zen Group & Promax, she's writing about basketball, learning about space, and thwarting her cats' attempts to take over the world. Catch up with her on Twitter @HayleyNIrvin.