There are a ton of articles out there that discuss the benefits of carb fluctuation. In essence, low carb diets are usually utilized to lose weight and cut fat while high carb diets are used to gain weight and muscle. I do agree with this method, however, it needs to be done properly in order to achieve optimum results. Let me break down everything you need to know about carbs and why timing your carbs properly is so important when it comes to hitting your goal.
First off, what is a carb? In short, carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Of the 3 macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat), the majority of us rely on carbs for our main source of energy. With that said, they will preserve your protein (muscles) as the body looks for carbs to burn to get us through the day, workouts etc. We NEED carbs!
There are plenty different types of carbs. We are going to focus on 2 classifications: Simple Carbs and Complex Carbs. A simple carb contains just one or two sugars, such as fructose (found in fruits) and galactose (found in milk products). Simple carbs are digested quickly because of the single/double molecule breakdown (the less molecules, the faster your body breaks down). This will create a quick spike in blood insulin and give you a short burst of energy. If these carbs are not used right away, they will end up storing in the liver and glycogen cells of your muscles. Once these cells are full, the body will store these carbs as fat. Be aware of “empty carbs” such as products made of processed sugars (candy, sodas, syrup) as these carbs have ZERO nutritional benefit. Always remember that sugars and carbs go hand in hand!
Next is complex carbs. Complex carbs are made up of 3 or more sugar molecules. The body will take more time to break down more molecules which has a major beneficial effect. Because of the time it takes to break down and digest, these sugar molecules are released into the blood stream more slowly providing a longer lasting, more sustained energy.
Good carbs are: Complex (oats, sweet potato, brown rice, green vegetables, whole wheats, squash, beans, lentils, quinoa)
- Low or moderate in calories
- High in nutrients
- Devoid of refined sugars and refined grains
- High in naturally occurring fiber
- Low in sodium
- Low in saturated fat
- Very low in, or devoid of, cholesterol and trans fats
Bad carbs are: Simple (white rice, flour tortillas, candy, processed treats, donuts, churros, pretzels, bagels, anything fried, etc…I know, sad right?)
- High in calories
- Full of refined sugars, like corn syrup, white sugar, honey and fruit juices
- High in refined grains like white flour
- Low in many nutrients
- Low in fiber
- High in sodium
- Sometimes high in saturated fat
- Sometimes high in cholesterol and trans fats
NOTE TO REMEMBER! THE HIGHER IN SUGAR IT IS, THE LOWER IN FIBERS, VITAMINS AND MINERALS.
Now that we’ve gone over both good and bad carbs, let’s now discuss proper timing. Timing carbs can make all the difference when it comes to hitting your goal.
Morning: Complex Carb + fruit (simple carb)
This is one of the most important times to get the proper carbs in. When you wake up in the morning, your body is starved from not eating during the hours you were dreaming. A good portion of complex carbs in the AM will first break the fast from your sleep and provide a long lasting energy source to keep you fueled. Breakfast in general is important for brain function and sustaining overall energy. Combine your complex carbs with a protein and a small simple carb like fruit! Because of the quick breakdown properties of simple carbs, you can use the sugar in a fruit to speed up the distribution of protein to your muscles! The faster your body gets the nutrients it needs in the morning, the better.
Pre Workout: Simple Carb
Here is where the proper choice of carb can get confusing. When you eat before a workout (yes, you should eat before a workout), you’ll want to consume a “good” simple carb along with a protein. I say a “good” simple carb because in these instances, they do a lot more good than bad. The best pre workout carbs are white rice and white potato. The quick absorption properties will help spike insulin levels and fill glycogen cells to give you a nice burst of energy to power you through your routine.
Post Workout: Complex Carbs + fruit (simple carb)
Once your workout is finished, your glycogen levels should now be depleted and ready to be bumped back up. You’ll want a decent serving of complex carbs to do the job. Usually after a workout (depending on intensity), your body will still be working for another few hours to bring itself back to homeostasis. This means your body is still burning calories and needs the proper fuel to do so. Timing after a workout is very similar to timing in the morning because your body is almost back to a fasted state. So we will copy the same routine we do in the AM. A complex carb to sustain energy and a fruit for a simple carb to help speed up distribution. If you are someone who likes to drink protein shakes directly after workouts, either have a high glycemic fruit like apples, strawberries, cantaloupe, put in the shake or eat it on the side with the shake.
Night: Complex (only if you are trying to gain weight or muscle)
The carbs at night debate is something we still see and hear today. When it comes to eating carbs before bed, there are a few factors to take into consideration. First of all, “Eating after 8 will make you gain weight” is a complete myth. It’s all dependent on WHAT and WHEN. I always recommend my clients to eat their last meals within one hour of bedtime. The later you eat, the more nutrients your body has to feed on while you sleep. BUT IT MUST BE A CLEAN AND LEAN MEAL. Usually a protein and a green veggie, lightly seasoned with either low or no sodium.
So we will break it down like this:
If weight/muscle gain is the goal: You’ll want to eat complex carbs even with your very last meal. The carbs will help ensure your body isn’t eating any muscle while you sleep because it has carbs to feed on. Absolutely NO simple carbs at night!
If weight loss/toning is the goal: No carbs for your last meal. Make sure you get a decent enough portion of protein and vegetables to help feed your body throughout the night.
These tips are EXACTLY the way I go about timing carbs in my day. I hope this has helped you get a better understanding of how carbs work, why we need them and when it’s best to eat them! Please comment if you have any questions and THANK YOU FOR SUBSCRIBING!