Carbohydrates get a lot of mixed press and depending on who you read; they are either the cause of the current obesity epidemic or are essential for fueling a healthy lifestyle. In actuality, carbs are a two-edged sword. While they are your primary source of energy when you are active, especially at higher intensities, if you are sedentary or they are consumed in excess, they are very easily converted to fats and then stored as body fat.
In a nut shell, the more active you are, the more carbs you need. The more sedentary you are, the less you need. Get that equation balanced and carbs become a valuable ally rather than the hated enemy.
Speaking of active versus sedentary lifestyles, even if you exercise five hours a week, if you spend the rest of your time say down in front of your computer, driving or otherwise inactive, you are sedentary.
Even the most ardent exerciser is relatively inactive compared to someone who does a physically demanding job eight-hours per day. Subsequently, even if you exercise, you would benefit from managing carbohydrate intake to maximize your performance while minimizing weight gain.
So, you workout and you need carbs but you are otherwise sedentary so you don’t need too many – how do you deal with such a quandary? The answer is: it’s all in the timing.
Best time to eat carbs
Basically, the best time to eat carbs is close to periods of physical activity, so you can make full use of their energizing effect. However, when you know you are going to be inactive, you dial down the carbs and dial up the protein.
Follow these simple guidelines to help you time your carbohydrate intake:
- Unless you are going to be inactive all day or are purposely following a low carbohydrate diet for weight loss, carbs first thing in the morning are a good idea. Your blood glucose is low, your insulin sensitivity is high and carbs consumed at this time are most likely to be shunted into your muscles and liver. Slow-releasing carbs are best like wholemeal toast, oatmeal or a bran-based cereal. Avoid sugary cereals and pastries as they will cause too big a spike in blood glucose and insulin and will leave you feeling hungry in an hour or so.
- Two hours before you exercise consume a moderate amount of slow acting carbohydrate such as brown rice, wholemeal pasta, whole grain bread or similar. The carbohydrate will slowly break down into glucose so that, come workout time, you’ll be fully energized but your stomach should be comfortably empty.
- Immediately after training, consume another portion of fast acting carbs to kick-start the recovery process. Your muscles and liver are especially carb sensitive immediately after exercise and virtually all carbs consumed at this time will be shunted quick-smart into your muscles and directed away from your fat cells. The harder and more exhaustive your workout, the greater this effect is. Consider this post-workout window and your main carb consumption opportunity.
- Two or so hours after exercise, your ability to process carbs effectively is on the wane so it’s time to dial back on the fast-acting carbs and switch to slower releasing foods such as the aforementioned brown rice and wholemeal pasta if you consume them at all. Keep portions small and dilute them with plenty of healthy fats and protein.
- On non-training days, eat less carbohydrate, especially if you are trying to lose fat. Remember, carbs are your source fuel for activity so if you are going to be inactive, you don’t need so much fuel. Simple really!
Carbs are not the evil they are so frequently depicted to be, but too much of the wrong sort and the wrong time can cause you problems. However, you CAN have your cake and eat it (so to speak) by timing your carb intake around activity and making sure you eat the bulk of your carbs when your body is best able to deal with them.