Timing Carb Intake to Maximize Body Composition and Performance
The timing of your carbohydrate intake can have a huge impact on how much muscle mass you build, how quickly you lose fat, and even what type of strength gains you make. If you are interested in maximizing your physique or performance then it’s essential that you understand the timing of your carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are the most critical macronutrient for building muscle and losing fat. When you consume too few calories during the day, your body will turn to protein and fats for energy instead. By consuming them at the right times, you’ll be able to maximize both your lean body mass (LBM) and strength gains.
However, if you don’t get enough calories throughout the day, your body will start burning stored body fat for fuel instead. This means that you won’t gain any LBM and may not see a significant decrease in body fat percentage. Your muscles will still grow but they won’t look as defined or strong as those with proper nutrition.
There are many factors that determine how many calories you need each day: age, gender, activity level, genetics and so forth. That’s why it’s always best to start with the general rule of thumb for your macronutrients rather than relying on online calculators alone.
How many carbs do I need?
The amount of carbs you should consume in a day depends on your goals, activity level and how much fat you need to lose. If you’re sedentary, overweight with some belly fat you should consume around 2g of carbohydrates per pound of body weight. If you’re very physically active or underweight you should consume 3g per pound of body weight.
If you’re trying to lose fat, it’s a good idea to start with the lower amount and see how that works for you. It’s always easier to add more carbohydrates in your diet than take away. Aim to consume them right after your workout and throughout the day with your other meals.
What about fiber?
Fiber, unlike carbohydrate, has no direct impact on your blood sugar levels. It passes through your body undigested and helps keep your digestive track running smoothly. Most Americans don’t consume enough dietary fiber so it’s a good thing to add into your diet, especially if you want to “clean things out” before a big event or picture.
However, while fiber is a carbohydrate, it has very little effect on your blood sugar and insulin levels. This makes it less likely to kick you out of a growth standpoint and actually makes you feel fuller faster. While this is good for preventing binge eating and overeating in the long term, it doesn’t really have much of a benefit to someone who’s trying to lose weight.
If you’re trying to gain muscle, it’s best to limit your intake of fiber until your goal is achieved. This will ensure that you’re getting adequate calories and feeding your muscles without unnecessary bulk. However, if you’re trying to lose weight, adding more fiber rich foods into your diet can help keep your digestive tract moving and prevent constipation.
What about sugar alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are a type of fiber that is neither sugar nor alcohol. Chemically speaking they’re a bit different, but because they’re not metabolized by the body in the same way that normal sugar is, they have a negligible effect on your blood sugar levels.
This makes them popular sweeteners with people on paleo or ketogenic diets because they can sweeten things up a bit but don’t cause a massive insulin spike. However, their effect on insulin is still greater than that of regular dietary fiber so it’s best to limit your consumption if you’re trying to lose weight.
What about artificial sweeteners?
Most artificial sweeteners have no calories and have no effect at all on your blood sugar levels. Because of this, they’re a popular alternative to sugar for people who are diabetic or trying to lose weight.
However, many artificial sweeteners have been shown to have a negative impact on your health in other ways. Aspartame, the most popular one in diet sodas, has been shown to cause neurological issues and even some cancers. While these studies have been criticized and the results hotly debated they still haven’t convinced most health agencies to approve their use.
If you’re trying to lose weight and aren’t concerned with the potential risks, then they can be a good way to cut down on calories but I wouldn’t make them a staple of your diet. They’re best used in moderation.
What’s wrong with all the other carbs?
There is nothing wrong with most types of carbohydrates, per se. It all depends on your goals. If you’re trying to gain mass, then obviously you want to be eating more carbohydrates than if you’re trying to lose weight or maintaining your current weight.
So what’s the problem?
When most people think of carbohydrates they think of sugars like candy, soda, juice, sweets, etc. While those types of food do contain carbohydrates, they also often contain a lot of calories but provide little to no nutritional value.
This is why it’s very easy to overeat foods like this and gain weight even if you’re eating a high amount of carbohydrates. You could literally be eating nothing but burgers, fries, and sodas and still not get enough nutrients to sustain your body because you’re just taking in extra calories that your body can’t use.
What can you do to cut down on this?
There are a few options. The first thing I would recommend is to always eat your carbohydrates with other foods. If you’re getting them from fruits and vegetables, then the problem is mostly solved as most of these foods have a lot of nutrients that your body can use.
The other thing you can do is to make sure you’re not just eating refined carbohydrates like sugars. There’s a big difference between eating whole fruits (which have a lot of fiber that sops up the sugar) and drinking a soda (where the sugar goes into your bloodstream all at once). Other foods like grains, pastas, and breads are also often refined before consumption which leads to a spike in blood sugar.
So what can you do?
Basically anything that says “whole grain” is always better than its refined equivalent. For instance, whole wheat bread is much healthier than white bread even if it has the same amount of carbohydrates. Also, brown rice is better than white rice and oatmeal is better than instant packets. Basically look for the word “whole” and you’ll usually be getting a better carbohydrate source.
Finally, try to avoid sugars and starch combinations. This is especially true for processed foods. For instance, donuts have a lot of carbs but they’re all sugar which is very bad for you. You’re much better off eating a bowl of oatmeal with fruit than a donut. The same goes for pizza.
A slice of pizza doesn’t have too many carbohydrates but they’re all sugars and that’s bad for you. You’re much better off eating pasta with a tomato based sauce or even chicken instead.
In general, just watch what you’re eating and try to get more whole grains and vegetables in your diet. It’ll make a huge difference in your energy levels and overall health.
Q. I’m an endurance athlete and I’ve been told that I should be eating more protein to build muscle.
Is this true?
First, it’s important to point out that it’s very hard to get “too much” protein. The only time this really becomes an issue is if you’re drinking protein shakes (or eating lots of meat) and not doing any exercise. In that case, your body is processing all that protein and just expelling the waste which can be a bit of a hassle for some.
If you’re active though, then by all means protein shakes are great when trying to gain muscle. Just make sure you’re also eating enough carbohydrates and getting enough rest.
So what about this endurance athlete and building muscle?
Well, it’s certainly possible but it takes a lot more discipline than the average body builder. Here’s why.
First, endurance athletes (in general) tend to be smaller people. This is because their bodies rely on fat as a primary energy source whereas larger bodied athletes rely more on carbohydrates. Building muscle requires a lot of energy which comes from carbohydrates so the larger athletes have an advantage due to their bodies natural make up.
Second, endurance athletes burn a lot of calories just by what they do. Think about it, if you run or cycle for 2 hours that’s 2 hours that your body is in active mode. This means that for the following 2-3 days your body is still burning calories at a high rate just to make up for that activity level. It’s almost like having a part time job!
All this adds up to creating an environment where it’s very difficult to build muscle.
With that said, here are a few suggestions to help improve your muscle building while still allowing you to be an endurance athlete.
First, I would suggest taking one day completely off from training every week. On this day, just do light stretching and cross-training (biking, swimming, rowing, etc…) but no heavy exercise. This will help keep your muscles from constantly tearing down and allow for them to rebuild stronger.
Second, eat more frequently. Taking in five or six meals a day rather than the usual three will increase your body’s ability to recover and rebuild which helps promote muscle gain.
Third, cut out the late night carbs. Eating a banana or some toast before bed may help you wake up feeling less sluggish but it’s really just giving your body more carbs to burn when it should be resting. Instead, eat a light dinner and then again when you first get up in the morning. This will give your body a steady stream of energy while it rests and rebuilds.
Finally, be patient! Give yourself at least 6 months before you really start judging your progress. It takes a while to build up the muscle and, depending on your genetics, you might not ever be able to match the size of an endurance athlete that’s half your size.
Most of all, enjoy what you’re doing. Be proud that you’ve made it this far and enjoy the journey as it unfolds.
I wish you much success!
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