Can you be at your best if you haven’t prepared properly? And will you feel fantastic after an exhausting workout if you haven’t prepared properly? No. You can’t and won’t.
What you do before working out, be it a high intensity workout or a moderate intense workout impacts how you perform. And not only is it what you do an hour or two before, it can also be a day or two before.
There are things we do that impact our performance: mental aspect – how do we feel, are we motivated, are we tired and just don’t want to be there or are we ready to kick ass? Our attitude can have a large impact on how our workout goes. And then there’s the influence of what we eat. You can be really pumped for your workout but if 10 minutes in you start to feel like crap, like someone added 20lb weights onto your feet and your legs feel like they are moving at half speed that can very well be due to what you ate, or if you ate anything at all before the workout.
We need to provide fuel to our muscles in the way of food especially when we are asking them to perform extremely. But if we don’t eat anything before a workout, or not enough or nothing at all most likely we will not perform well. And in some cases we will do damage to our body.
And it’s just not what we eat before that counts. If your workout is long in duration, more than 60 minutes, what you ate the day before and what you did the day before influences your performance today.
Our body want’s carbs for fuel. It’s that simple. So if you are someone who is on a low carb/high fat protein diet you may want to rethink that decision. Actually, I beg you to rethink it. Carbohydrates are what our body needs to get glucose into the blood and also to store as glycogen for future use. When you exercise the available glucose is used for energy be it for a highly intense cardio workout or an intense resistance training workout. When the available glucose is used, the body then uses glycogen stored in the liver and muscles to convert it to glucose to provide that fuel. Carbs are what our body, including our brain use as fuel to get things done.
Let’s look at what the International Olympic Committee says about carbs:
“surveys show that the best
endurance athletes in the world (the Kenyan and
Ethiopian distance runners) consume diets that
are particularly high in carbohydrates. Meanwhile
in many Western countries, media reports state
that carbohydrates make us fat and unhealthy,
and the most popular current diet books are
based on eating plans that are low and moderate
in carbohydrate and high in fat.”
“the importance of
the body’s stores of carbohydrate as a source of
fuel for the muscle and brain during exercise is
still a fact. In many types of sport, low levels of
carbohydrate stores are a factor in fatigue and
reduced performance. Furthermore, strategies
to increase carbohydrate availability have been
consistently shown to result in performance
enhancements, not just in marathon running
but in short duration events too. That is why
carbohydrate continues to play a key role in
You can read more here if you like.
You may not be an Olympic athlete but if you perform like you want to be one than you need to eat those carbs.
Eating carbs with respect to working out usually is associated with endurance events such as marathons. You might have heard the term ‘carb loading’, the process of eating a lot of carbs days before an event to ensure you had enough carbs for that event, only for long endurance events. I remember the week of my black belt test being told to carb load. But this goes for any intense workout. It’s always a good idea to have those carb stores, the glycogen levels, as high as you can. If you only focus on what you eat before you work out, and your glycogen levels are low, then you probably won’t have the amount of glucose/glycogen you need to get through your workout. You may only have enough fuel for 20 minutes of intense work then you hit that wall where you feel really lethargic.
Here’s a tip to keep it simple. Keep your carb intake levels high all the time. I know, this goes against what we are hearing today with the Paleo diet, and Ketogenic diet being very popular. Read my previous posts to see why those diets do more harm than good and don’t provide the energy we need. If you think a high carb diet makes you fat, just look to cultures that follow a high carb diet like south east Asia as an example, then look at cultures that don’t – western cultures like North America. Using the World Health Organization criteria Japan has the lowest rate of obesity among the OECD member countries at 3.2%. By 2015-2016 numbers almost 40% of Americans are obese! Unbelievable!
Also, it’s not only what we do before that impacts our performance it’s also what we do during. If you are exercising intensely for 60 minutes or more you should really think about taking in carbs at that 60 minute mark. It can be as easy as drinking a sports workout drink or gel. You can even make your own that doesn’t have those nasty dyes in it and too much sugar. Most people will be in a glucose deficit after 60 minutes of working out and that’s when you will start to feel run down, low in energy. Let’s take a look at this chart:
As the chart shows, exercising for a period of 1 – 2.5 hours 30 – 60 grams per hour is recommended for better performance. Without that intake of carbs you are most likely to burn out and not perform as well.
Post workout also requires intake of carbs. Don’t reach for that high protein shake just yet. If you have depleted your body of glucose/glycogen you need to replenish. A simple banana, orange, smoothie will suffice to maintain a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein. This will get your glucose levels up, which will help you feel more human, and also provide a bit of protein to help in the rebuilding process. Then, an hour or more later you can consume some foods again. Remember, our body requires carbs for the simplest things like breathing, thinking, walking, just living. Without those carbs you will continue to feel rundown and your recovery from your hard workout will not be what you want it to be.
It’s an old school mentality to not consume anything while working out. You are working out to be faster, stronger, better. Help yourself do those things and eat those carbs. Eat them before, during, and after. If Olympic athletes are doing it, why wouldn’t you? Try it and I think you will think afterwards ‘Why didn’t I do this earlier?’.
Lastly, ensure your carbs are quality carbs, not processed and full of added sugar.
Yours in health,