Let’s talk about everyone’s favorite thing: CARBS!!!! We work with athletes to help them improve their performance in the gym as well as improve their physique (usually either fat loss or muscle gain, often both). To do both of these things at the same time we have to implement a whole lot of science; and guess what?!?! SCIENCE WORKS!!!!! We’re a huge fans of giving our athletes ALL the carbs, and lucky for them, there’s a lot of evidence to support doing so. It has to be done at the appropriate times for it to be favorable for performance as well as body composition.
If you follow me us Instagram, you might know that I ask all my athletes to strive for 30% of their allotted carb intake in the 1-2 hours prior to training, and another 30% starting during training (if needed) and up to 2 hours after training. This means that 60% of your carbs will be surrounding your workouts. I call this the 30-30 rule. This is where the science comes in. Sugar is your muscles’ preferred energy source. We all know that carbs are broken down into SUGAR, hence why everyone freaked out in the 90’s and 2000’s and went on crazy low carb diets. This was favorable for body composition for the average person, but it greatly hindered athletic performance. As I was saying, your muscles prefer to use sugar as energy, especially quickly digestible sugars so that your body can do little to no digesting and use all that energy to making you a badass during training.
Ok, so that’s why I want 30% of my carbs before I train. But why on earth would I want that AFTER I train?!?!? Are you trying to make me fat?! Unused sugar gets stored as fat, according to bro-science,” I know that’s what you are thinking right now!
Short answer: NO! I mean, unless you don’t care about your recovery or if you perform as well as a wet noodle during tomorrow’s training session.
A la, this guy:
Do you think he skips his carbs?!
If that’s what you want, then yes, please skip the post-training carbs.
Oh what’s that? You are trying to IMPROVE your sports performance? Well yeah, then you need to learn about this sneaky substance called cortisol that your body likes to produce when it’s under stress. Even though training is good for your body, it still sees it as a stressor and loves to release cortisol at that time. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal cortex (the outer portion of the adrenal gland which is situated on top of the kidneys) in response to physical and emotional stress. For athletes, this happens during training which is AWESOME because it stimulates the making of new glucose in the liver (gluconeogenisis) AND the breakdown of glycogen stored in muscle cells (glycogenolysis). On top of which, cortisol causes all the sugar that has just been created or released to be free floating in the bloodstream for easy use, due to the way cortisol inhibits insulin from bringing the glucose into the cells. Basically, this means that cortisol released during training directly provides you with more energy to train hard! Pretty awesome, right?!
The downside, is that chronically elevated cortisol lowers immune function, limits muscle recovery, decreases bone density, raises blood pressure, and causes you to retain water. Not to mention that long-term effects can cause reproductive problems, decreased testosterone, and adrenal fatigue. So, we definitely want to minimize cortisol IMMEDIATELY following training. How do we so that? By eating simple sugars (carbs) immediately following training. You also want to replenish glycogen supplies (stored sugar in your muscles) following training so that you can live to fight another day.
Here’s an example of pre and post training meals using the 30-30 rule:
- 2 hours pre: shredded chicken + white rice
- 1 hour pre: Rice cake + powdered peanut butter (like PB2) + banana
- Intra-training (when training exceeds 2 hours or if you start feeling flat): sour patch strawberries, rice cake, or dextrose powder
- Immediately post: whey protein with a carb source (for lactose-free protein, I love Atomic Nutrition Fuelx30) + rice cake
- Up to 2 hours post: lean meat + rice, pasta, or sweet potato
Notice these are all high-glycemic carbs. Eating these away from training doesn’t go a long ways to stabilizing your blood sugar and keeping you full, but that is not the point of peri-training carbs! One last note: you want the meals surrounding your training to be low in fat to maximize uptake of the carbs and protein.
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Kristin is head sports nutritionist at Fiercely Fueled and has been coaching athletes on proper nutrition for a decade, she is also an accomplished Olympic weightlifter and elite powerlifter.