When it comes to diet and nutrition, think of your body as a state of the art machine, an expensive supercar perhaps, and think of how you would expect that machine to be treated. If you owned a supercar, would you use cheap, cloudy, poor quality oil and fuel to power it, or would you use the best fuel possible, if cost wasn’t an issue of course. Obviously you would put the best quality fuel into the vehicle, and obviously you would look after the vehicle as best you could. If you didn’t, the car would begin to look rundown and ragged, and it wouldn’t perform as well as it could. Well, with your body, the same principle applies. If you get no exercise, and fill your body full of junk food instead of nutritious and healthy produce, you’ll gain weight, you’ll look unwell, you’ll feel unwell, and you’ll become unwell. For those of you who exercise and workout regularly, obviously you’ll know that the foods, drinks, and supplements that you put inside your body, will all play a massive role in determining how well you function and perform athletically, not to mention what you look like in the process. Carbohydrates can play a key role in athletic performance, not to mention in regards to health and fitness in general, but when is the best time of day to consume them, if in fact, there is an optimal time of day to consume them? Let’s look at things in a little more detail, shall we?
Our bodies get energy from three different macronutrients, which are: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Nutrient timing is basically, well, timing our nutrient consumption in such a way as allows us to benefit the most from the food and drinks that we’re putting into our bodies. With nutrient timing, the idea is to allow your body to work in conjunction with naturally occurring hormones, as these can influence nutrient uptake via the muscles, or rather, via cells within the muscles. You see, the human body is designed in such a way in which its muscles can be receptive for absorbing more nutrients at certain times than others, nutrients including carbohydrates. It is at these times of the day, in which our insulin sensitivity levels will be at their highest. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreases, to basically shuttle sugars, oxygen, and other nutrients out of the blood, into our cells as quickly as possible. When insulin sensitivity is elevated, the effects of insulin become more prominent. This is important because it allows the body to utilize less insulin to store glucose which has been derived from the carbohydrates.
So, does this assist with fat loss?
In a word – yes. You see, when our natural insulin levels become elevated, the human body becomes unable to mobilize certain fatty acids. As the insulin is such a potent hormone required for storage, it actually takes these glucose sugars, and forces them into the awaiting cells, which then use it as a primary source of fuel. The problems however, come if our liver and muscles are stocked full of glycogen, which is a primary energy source used by the muscles. If they’re already full, glucose will obviously not be able to be stored, because there will be no room for it to be stored. In these cases however, and this is where the fat loss benefits really become apparent, if the muscles and liver are full, the glucose which would ordinarily have been used as fuel, will instead be taken by the insulin, and, rather than having it go to waste, the body instead converts it into body fat. For these reasons, we need to keep insulin levels relatively low and controlled throughout the day, and so knowing when to consume carbohydrates during the day is absolutely essential, as these obviously play the biggest roles in insulin levels. Fats and proteins have only slight influences on insulin levels, meaning that they are less influential on hormone levels.
Knowing how to structure your carb intake on training days
So, now that we know why it’s important to structure our carbohydrate intakes regularly, here’s a look at how best you can time your carb consumption:
Breakfast – After you’ve gone around 8 – 12 hours without eating, your insulin sensitivity will be much higher than usual, because all of the glycogen and remaining glucose in your system will have been used up. Obviously then, once you wake up in a morning, glycogen levels will be depleted, which in turn will require less insulin to store the carbs you consume, because the sensitivity will be increased.
Before training – For your pre-workout meal, your insulin sensitivity levels should be relatively low, but the thing to remember is that once you do exercise and begin working out, as your glycogen levels are quickly used up by the muscles, insulin sensitivity again begins to creep up. Because of this, it is recommended that you consume a complex carbohydrate food source around 60 – 90 minutes before you exercise, as this will provide you with a slow and steady release of energy to help get you through your workout.
Immediately after training – Before we look at your post-workout meal, it’s important that we talk about what happens immediately after exercising. When we exercise, our muscle glycogen levels diminish, meaning that they’re completely empty and the cells in the muscles will become slightly swollen, allowing them to absorb more nutrients. For this reason, experts recommend adding a simple carb source such as dextrose powder, to your post-workout shake, as this sugar will cause insulin levels to spike, meaning that the protein and other nutrients in your post-workout shake, can quickly be shuttled into the awaiting muscle cells.
After training – Even after your protein shake, the muscles quickly use up the nutrients and begin the recovery phase, leaving them once again starved of glycogen. They actually soak up glucose from the blood, and as they are so desperate for the carbs, they can actually convert glucose into glycogen, without needing any insulin at all, which is why it is so important to spike insulin levels immediately after you train.