Nutrient timing was such a hot topic that we decided to expand and create “part 2” that dives in deeper on the importance of simple vs. complex carbs in conjunction with when you should be eating them. We discussed the importance of macro frequency and the specific timing of certain macros around workouts. The frequency of protein intake is more important than the specific timing around workouts while the consumption of carbs have an even more significant timing window. The vast majority of your carbs need to be consumed around your workouts, especially if it is a high intensity session. Carbs gives your body a great source of energy by replenishing glycogen stores pre and post training. Glycogen stores supply blood glucose (energy) to the nervous system and muscles for contraction. These carbs can be broken down into two classifications: Simple carbs, which are referred to as high glycemic index carbohydrates while the other form of carbs is complex also referred to as low glycemic index carbohydrates. These two forms of carbs are very specific in their timing around workouts as well so we should pay close attention to reap the most benefits for our body.
Simple carbohydrates are your most basic form of carbs. They are typically monosaccharides (one-unit sugars) and disaccharides (two-unit sugars). The monosaccharides being glucose, fructose and galactose, while disaccharides are two monosaccharides combined. While disaccharides typically need an enzyme to break them down, the body can absorb monosaccharides immediately. That being said simple carbs are just your basic forms of sugar. They need to be consumed during or 30 minutes’ post training. At this point, your body is extremely depleted of glycogen and glucose. During training you are burning through those glycogen stores and you hit a point where you cannot supply the body with enough glycogen. The body releases a hormone called cortisol (a stress hormone), causing the breakdown of muscle (catabolism), which results in the conversion of your protein to glucose for energy release. At this point, the body can quickly absorb the newly released simple carbs (glucose). This causes a chain reaction where insulin is released to help the muscles absorb the glucose to decrease muscle lost. This actually starts the process of muscle growth. Consuming carbs right after training helps with the likelihood of those carbs being used as glycogen versus being converted to fat. That quick absorption gives you a boost of energy, but that energy cannot be sustained. Since simple carbs are a fast absorbing carb that provide the body with a boost of energy, that energy cannot be sustained due to their rapid rate of absorption. There is some controversy of whether or not to consume simple carbs before training. I believe if you are going to absorb simple carbs before training it needs to be within 30 mins of your training period. I would also recommend that you continue that consumption during training as stated above. Outside the thirty-minute window before or post training, I would focus my energy on the consumption of complex carbs.
Complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars referred to as polysaccharides. The polysaccharides are commonly referred to as starches and fibers. The most common starches and fibers are plant foods such as grains, potatoes, vegetables and legumes. These polysaccharides are broken down into monosaccharides before they can be digested and used as energy in the body. The fact that these carbs have to be broken down to a simpler form decreases the rate of absorption. Your body will be absorbing the sugars slowly, but with a timed release, which allows a more sustainable energy level. That is why complex carbs are the best choice of carb consumption before workouts. It allows for sustainable energy levels throughout training. They are also a great source of carbs throughout the rest of the day. Your nervous system’s primary energy source is carbs so they will keep you alert and full throughout the day. Complex carbs are also a great source for vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Below is a table that breaks down the optimal timing carb intake throughout the day: