Are Pre-Workout Carbs A Good Idea?

Should you ‘carb-up’ before training? Studies show that all depends on your goals? Here sports scientist Ross Edgley reveals how those pre-workout carbohydrates could improve your performance in the gym, but won’t necessarily help your six-pack.  

Firstly it’s important to state carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel supply. So if you’re goal is to improve your performance, you absolutely need a sufficient supply. Training or competing without them is ‘sports suicide’. Just ask the scientists at Loughborough University who set out to quantify the difference carbohydrate intake made to a runner’s performance. What they found was  those who consumed a high carbohydrate diet 7 days before a 30km treadmill time trial were 10% quicker than those who didn’t.

Science also supports the use of pre-workout carbohydrates for those wanting to pack on muscle too. Researchers from the University of Queensland subjected strength athletes to a carbohydrate restricted diet to analyse its effects on performance. After a 2-day carbohydrate restriction program athletes performed three sets of squats with a load of 80% of one repetition maximum. What they found was the carbohydrate restriction program caused a ‘significant reduction in the number of squat repetitions performed’. Basically showing how avoiding carbohydrates pre-workout could directly reduce your muscle building potential in the weights room.

Also if you’re prone to overtraining, surprisingly pre-workout carbohydrates may hold the answer. Scientists from Loma Linda University Medical Center in California set out to test how carbohydrates influenced the immune system and more specifically cytokine concentrations. Cytokines are substances that carry signals between the cells of the immune system and are believed by researchers to be critical to preventing the body becoming ill and run down from too much exercise. What they found was consuming a 6% carbohydrate drink before training positively affected cytokine levels. Concluding pre-workout carbohydrates could help support the body’s immune system during periods of intense exercise.

So in view of all this research, do I personally ‘carb-up’ pre-workout? The answer is no. Since long gone are the days when I used to compete as an international athlete. Now I train for the sheer love of it and so forgo my pre-workout carbs and improved performance in pursuit of a better six-pack, let me explain why. Researchers from the University of Texas, USA discovered eating pre-workout carbohydrates actually slowed the fat burning process during exercise. This is because the ingestion of carbohydrates causes a rise in the hormone insulin which when elevated during training can ‘limit fat oxidisation’. So by not eating any pre-workout, you effectively put your body in a better hormonal state to burn fat.

So in summary if you’re wanting to improve your performance, in just about anything, be sure to ‘carb-up’ pre-workout. But if you’d happily clock a slower 5km time on the treadmill for a better six-pack come beach season, science may support ditching them.


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