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Do I need to Take On Carbohydrates When I Train?



Any rule around nutrition and nutritional strategies is completely voluntary, if you can hit your energy intake (calories) and your goals for protein, carbohydrates and hydration by the end of the day, that’s what will make a huge impact on your results.


However, if we want to perform, have greater muscle mass then taking extra steps to encourage your best outcomes, which cost very little more than ‘mental’ effort to change a habit, may have profound benefits to our wellbeing.


Fasted and/or under-fuelled trainees who are also under-protein are the ones ‘typically’ (not everyone) finding themselves raiding the cupboards and fridge at night or craving salty, fatty, crispy, carbohydrate-based snacks and chocolate living on caffeine and stimulants.


If you don’t want to fuel your training properly, then ignore this.


... but you probably believe fuelling your training properly is for you so keep reading.

Studies from the European Journal of Sports Science (2013) show that even a 'mouth rinse' of carbohydrates can impact cycling time trial performance.

We do have the thinnest layer and barrier of tissue in our oral biome directly to our brains so it's no surprise that even sipping may influence performance outcomes.


Further studies from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (2003) also advocate the ingestion of carbohydrates to support glycogen uptake and offset the breakdown of muscle and liver-stored carbohydrates.

'it may be advisable for athletes who are performing high-volume resistance training to ingest carbohydrate supplements before, during, and immediately after resistance training.'

Given it's a widely studied area, it's no secret that athletes can benefit from fuelling workouts during the training window.


How much?


The wonderful work of Jeukendrup (2004) also identifies a rate-limiting factor where carbohydrates are taken on board even when more is supplied.

CHO ingested during exercise will be oxidized at rates up to about 1 g/min, even when large amounts of CHO are ingested.

Typically this is due to absorption time across the gut barrier through the small intestine and entering the energy pathways, hence sports supplementation has been prevalent for many years in providing fast-acting, quick-absorbing carbohydrate products such as maltodextrin, dextrose, cyclic-dextrin, gels, chews and even real food energy bars.


Get your total carbohydrate intake right

There’s no need to take on board extra carbohydrates during training if sessions of actual work are under 40 minutes (that doesn’t include setting up equipment, warming up, rest times etc) and you have a good amount of carbohydrates in your pre-workout meal.

You may benefit from additional carbohydrates during training if:


  • You are training having had nothing for breakfast or for up to 3-6 hours prior.

  • Your training lasts longer than 60 minutes.

  • The ‘intensity’ of your training is extremely high. I.e. your perceived exhaustion being doubled over, heart racing, hands on knees with a breathing rate of ‘air drinking’.

  • You’re an endurance-based athlete where constant energy turnover and oxidation are happening.

  • You are a strength athlete performing high volume, high repetition work with short rest.

  • You struggle to get your calories in from whole food meals due to digestive capacity.


In this instance, you may take on an additional 30-60 g of carbohydrates per additional hour in line with recommendations found with Jeukendrup (2004) from something like a sports nutrition product or simple carbohydrate (sugar) food.


Everyone can benefit from fast-acting, easy-to-digest proteins and carbohydrates after a workout.


Fat vs Carbohydrates


At rest and low intensities, our bodies typically burn fat for fuel, as exercise demands increase, we shift into shuttling carbohydrates into the bloodstream and use up muscle stores of carbohydrates.


Fat


  • Use for low exercise intensity and endurance work (zone 1-2).

  • Oxidised much slower than carbohydrates but provides higher energy density per gram (9k/cals per gram).

  • Less available at high intensities.


Carbohydrates


  • Use for high-intensity and high-volume work (zone 3-5).

  • Provides fast energy for use by working muscles.

  • Limited by total storage capacity and needs replenishment.


Therefore, it may be prudent to develop your dietary balance and habits with peri-workout nutrition to align with the intensity of your training.


Most do well at 3 g/kg carbohydrates per day.


Long duration and high volume intense trainees doing multiple sessions per week (5-7) may benefit from 3-8 g/kg carbohydrates per day.


Double session, game day, competitive athletes may take 10-12 g/kg per day.


See more from me:



It is okay to be proactive about food if we expect to perform.


Can we imagine someone like Usain Bolt, Ronaldo, Serena Williams or Denise Lewis starting their training and fuelling their recovery with a Gregg’s Bean and Cheese melt?


References


Haff, G. et al. (2003). Carbohydrate Supplementation and Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 17(1):p 187-196, February 2003.


Sinclair, J. (2013). The effect of different durations of carbohydrate mouth rinse on cycling performance. (online). Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17461391.2013.785599


Jeukendrup, A. (2004). Carbohydrate intake during exercise and performance. (online). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.017.

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