Gym goers always had a love and hate relationship with the carbs. There was a time when everyone had them like crazy and then, there came a time when no one wanted to do anything with them.
Now, people are realizing the true importance of carbs once again, until some other study shows otherwise.
Importance of carbs
Carbs are important for multiple reasons. First of all, it is the primary macro-nutrient that your body turns to for energy. Carbohydrate provides 4 calories per gram.
Although, fat can provide you with 9 cal per gram, but it takes a lot more effort to convert fat into usable form of energy.
There is a limited space of carb storage, anything more than that has to be converted into fat and stored in the adipose tissues, which is long task. Hence, you body tries to derive energy from the carbs you provide it.
Carbs circulate in the form of glucose in the blood. This glucose is used for any task you perform. For example, if you walk up the stairs, this glucose is used to provide necessary energy.
If you are a normal healthy person, then a certain level of glucose is allowed in the blood stream.
The rest of the glucose, with the help of insulin is taken in by the cells. Carbohydrates in that form are known as “glycogen”.
Glycogen is stored in the muscles and provides energy during rigorous activities.
What is the best time to eat carbs?
So, now we know that carbs are very important if you want to build muscles. But, like everything else, eating too much carbs, especially at the wrong time can make you fat.
There are many people online who tell you how much carbs and protein and the best time to eat carbs. They talks very generic.
How can two people with different profession, with different level of physical activities can benefit by consuming the same amount of carbs.
In this scenario, either you’ll end up with less than what you need or you’ll end up storing excess carbs in the form of fat.
The timing you choose is also very crucial.
While deciding the amount of carbs you need to take, it is important to know what all physical activities you are going to perform through out the day and not just what you are doing in the gym.
Secondly, what are your goals. If you want to stay as you are while increasing muscle mass, the amount of carbs is different and if you want to decrease the weight the amount of carbs should be different.
Now, let us see what timings are best for the carb intake and how much carbs at each period you need.
Should you eat carbs in the morning?
Let us consider facts before jumping into any conclusion. Your body is very insulin sensitive in the morning.
Being insulin sensitive means your body will react more effectively to glucose with less amount of insulin. Which means, there is no need for your body to produce more insulin.
Insulin stops breakdown of the fat into fatty acids and helps in storage of carbs as fats. So, less insulin is good if you don’t want to gain weight.
But, this doesn’t mean you consider insulin as your enemy. In the right amount it is good, especially, as it helps in transfer of glucose in the blood to the the muscle cells to be used as energy.
Now we know that eating carbs in the morning can be helpful, but how much should you consume. If you are into body building and looking for replenishing the glycogen in the muscles, then eating carbs in necessary.
Don’t try to refuel all the glycogen with one or two meals. You must know there is only a limited amount of glycogen which can be stored in muscle and liver.
It is like a buffer, when the sugar in your blood increases your body takes that sugar and stores it in muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.
When the blood sugar drops the body breaks down the same glycogen and release the resulting glucose in the blood. It is always a good idea not to fill up the glycogen reserves completely.
So, if you had a lot of carbs the previous day post-workout, then you don’t need a large amount of carbs. But, if you didn’t have enough carbs, then you can eat plenty.
And, if you are eating lots of carbs in the morning, it is better to divide it in equal parts and consume them at an interval.
You can have some carbs right after you get up. Then, another part right before leaving for the office. This part should be consumed with protein. And, a little bit of fat.
The whole point is that you need to have an X amount of carbs in a day. Your job is to divide and eat this quantity, such that maximum carbs is used for energy and glycogen production, and no excess is left for storage as fat.
How much carb?
If you walk or cycle to the office, then you can eat good quantity of carbs in the morning. But, if you go to your office by car and sit there until evening, then eat small quantity only, in doses.
Eating lots of carbs spikes up your blood sugar, this is good is you are planning to do some physical activity.
Because, most of the part of the glucose in the blood is used to do the work and rest would be stored as glycogen.
If you have a sitting job and you eat lots of carbs at once, you’ll spike blood sugar level and if you don’t perform any activity, then your body would store a part as glycogen and rest as fat.
NOTE – Body can store only limited quantity of glycogen, but it can store any amount of fat.
Pre-workout and post-workout carbs?
If you have a job where you have to sit, try to consume most part of the carbs early in the morning, just before the workout and post-workout.
There is one other reason, why you should eat carbs pre and post workout.
Protein, carbs and fats are source of energy. If you don’t provide enough carbs, your body will start using the protein as the energy.
So, it will either use the protein you just ate or it will start breaking down the muscle. Of course breaking of muscle is a very extreme case, but it can happen.
Now, should you eat simple and complex carbs before workout and how much before a workout should you eat?
Frankly, if you are doing an intense workout with very little rest period, you should go with simple carbs.
As you are utilising all the energy, there is a very little chance of it getting stored in the form of fat. Plus, working out makes your body more insulin sensitive.
That means, more glucose can be easily utilised by your cells.
You will hear many people say that this type of carbohydrate is good or that type of carbohydrate is good, post-workout.
I am not saying what they are teaching is theoretically wrong, but it is too complex. It is always better to keep things simple. Now, the first thing you should eat must give you quick energy.
Exercising lowers down your blood sugar and it is very important to bring that level back to normal.
For that you need some simple carbs, but don’t try to fulfil all the carb requirements using simple carbs.
After simple carbs manages to bring blood sugar back to normal, you can use complex carbs to slowly and steadily fill up the glycogen stores.
Think of it this way, 25% glucose should come from simple and 75% should come from complex carbs.
Can exercise increase blood sugar?
In some cases, exercising can also increase the level of blood sugar. When you have high insulin resistance, then the glucose released by body, by breaking down the glycogen can’t be utilised by the muscles.
Which leads to rising of glucose in the blood. People with diabetes most commonly face this problem.
If you have high insulin resistance, you must check your blood sugar both pre and post workout, before choosing any kind of carb.
Carbs before protein
If the protein that you take has ZERO carbs and you like to perform intense exercises that completely drain your body. Then it is better to have carbohydrates before protein.
The simple reason is, after an intense workout your body is starving of energy. When you eat protein before the carbs, your body uses the protein as the energy source.
Protein is a very expensive source of energy, especially when you compare it to carbohydrates.
Although, this will happen when there is a very long gap between protein and carbohydrate intake. The process of breaking down of protein into glucose is called “Gluconeogenesis”.
But, it is a very-very slow process. And, if you eat carbs a very long time after consuming protein, the protein will be converted into glucose.
Worst time to eat carbs
Now, that we have talked about the best time to eat carbs and now we will talk about when you should not have carbs.
You must definitely avoid eating carbs before bedtime and there are two reasons for it.
The first one is that, all this glucose that came from the carbs won’t be used, as during sleep your physical activity level is close to zero.
The second reason is little complicated and hence lesser known.
You need a hormone known as “insulin-like growth factor” for muscle building. IGF-I is responsible for all the repair work of your muscles. So, the muscles you break down in the gym are reconstructed by IGF-I.
The IGF-I is produced in good quantity during your sleep, that is the reason all the repair work takes place at night. But, an increase in the level of the insulin prevent IGF-I working on your tissues.
This is because IGF-I and insulin share the same receptor sites. So, eating carb at night can not only increase the fat storage, but also prevent hypertrophy.
The is no single best time to eat carbs. It totally depends up on your workout routine, your office timings. But, after knowing all the above information you can create your work carb plan.