Carbohydrates get a lot of mixed press and depending on who you read; They are either the cause of the current obesity epidemic or essential for a healthy lifestyle. In reality, carbohydrates are a double-edged sword. While they are your primary source of energy when you are active, especially at higher intensities, when you are sedentary or when consumed excessively, they can very easily be converted to fats and then stored as body fat.
In short, the more active you are, the more carbohydrates you will need. The more sedentary you are, the less you need. Get this equation balanced and Carbohydrates become a valuable ally rather than the hated enemy.
Speaking of an active or sedentary lifestyle, even if you exercise five hours a week, spend the rest of your time in front of your computer, drive, or otherwise be inactive, you are sedentary.
Even the most passionate athlete is relatively inactive compared to someone who does physically strenuous work eight hours a day. Subsequently, even as you exercise, you can manage your carbohydrate intake to maximize your performance while minimizing weight gain.
So you work out and need carbohydrates, but otherwise settle down so you don't need too many – how do you deal with such a dilemma? The answer is: it all depends on timing.
Best Time to Eat Carbohydrates
Basically, the best time to eat carbohydrates is near periods of physical activity so that you can take full advantage of their energizing effects. However, when you know you will be inactive, choose the carbohydrates and the protein.
Follow these simple guidelines to help you time your carbohydrate intake:
- Unless you're inactive all day or are intentionally following a low-carb diet for weight loss, carbohydrates first thing in the morning are a good idea. Your blood sugar is low, your insulin sensitivity is high, and carbohydrates that are consumed at this point are most likely going to your muscles and liver. Slow-release carbohydrates are best like whole grain toast, oatmeal, or a bran-based cereal. Avoid sugary cereals and pastries as these will cause excess blood sugar and insulin spikes and will leave you hungry in about an hour.
- Consume a moderate amount of slow-acting carbohydrates like brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, or the like two hours before your workout. The carbohydrate slowly breaks down into glucose so that you are fully energized at exercise time, but your stomach should be comfortably empty.
- Consume another serving of fast-acting carbohydrates immediately after your workout to stimulate the recovery process. Your muscles and liver are particularly sensitive to carbohydrates immediately after you workout, and virtually all of the carbohydrates you use at that point are quickly directed into your muscles and away from your fat cells. The harder and more extensive your training, the greater this effect. Look at this post-workout window and your main carbohydrate consumption option.
- About two hours after your workout, your ability to process carbohydrates effectively decreases. So it's time to turn the fast-acting carbs back on and switch to slower-release foods like the brown rice and whole wheat pasta mentioned above, if you are consuming them at all. Keep the servings small and dilute them with plenty of healthy fats and proteins.
- Eat fewer carbohydrates on non-workout days, especially when trying to lose fat. Remember, carbohydrates are your source of activity. So if you want to be inactive, you don't need that much fuel. Really easy!
Carbohydrates aren't the evil they are so often portrayed for, but too much of the wrong kind and time can cause you problems. However, you CAN have your cake and eat it (so to speak) by balancing your carb intake with activity and making sure you eat the majority of your carbs when your body is best able to handle them.