While total caloric intake and macro breakdown has to be on point in order to achieve your gym goals, does carb timing really play a big role? Is there really anything to the idea of consuming carbs before, during, and / or after training? And are these carb timing windows really that significant? Read below to find out.
3-4 Hours Before Working Out
If you work out in the afternoon or evening, consuming carbs a few hours before training is a good idea. You have plenty of time to digest your food and have energy when it’s time to work out. Just be sure to stick with carbs high in fiber such as brown rice, oatmeal, or the like. These take longer to digest and will ensure they’re still in your system when you hit the gym.
This is actually when you should take in a good chunk of your carbs for the day, shooting for .25-.5 grams per pound of body weight. However, don’t be afraid to switch things up. If you feel more energetic and / or get better workouts with a little more or little less than that, go with what works for you.
60 Minutes Before Working Out
If you train in the morning or aren’t otherwise able to consume carbs several hours before hand, you’ll want to alter your strategy. Because of this carb timing, stay away from too much fiber, or else you’ll be too full and / or bloated for your session.
However, it’s still too far away from your workout to go with simple carbs. As a result, a serving of a complex carbohydrate usually works well. You also won’t need to consume as many carbs, either. Feel free to still experiment some, but you should be fine with roughly .25 grams per pound of body weight.
Immediately Before Working Out
If you train as soon as you wake in the morning, or there’s so much time between eating and your session that you’re hungry, it’s okay to consume roughly .1 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. Now is the time to take in simple sugars, as they break down the quickest and will give you the immediate energy you need to train.
During Your Workout
Consuming carbs during your workout has become a hot topic in recent years, but it’s starting to look like the importance of intra-workout carb timing may have been somewhat overstated. This is mainly because it’s becoming more and more known that the body doesn’t use up its stored carbs nearly as fast as was originally thought.
For instance, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology, your traditional bodybuilding workout is only going to use up roughly 25-40% of the body’s stored carbohydrates. This means most weight training and / or cardio workouts lasing 45-60 minutes or so don’t really need additional carb supplementation.
However, if you’re working out for 90+ minutes (e.g. – endurance sessions or hiking), or your exercise consists of very intense activity repeated for an extended period of time (e.g. – hockey, football, or practicing an obstacle course), then studies in Medicine and Science in Sports and again in the Journal of Applied Physiology show that additional carbs could be helpful.
After Working Out
It’s well known that you need to eat after working out, but the actual length of post-workout carb timing might surprise you. According to a study in Sports Medicine, as long as you’re only training once per day, you could have up to roughly 24 hours (until your next workout) to replenish the carbs you used during your session.
You also don’t need nearly as many carbs as you probably think. .25-.5 grams per pound of body weight is enough for most trainees. However, as has been stated already, there is some wiggle room in there. Feel free to experiment to see what works best for you.
Just remember that you really don’t need a ton of carbs. A paper published in Acta Physiologica Scandinavica states that most normal folks don’t need any more than one gram of carbs per pound of body weight per day to sustain normal healthy activity. Unless you’re very active outside the gym, you’re just not going to need much more than that yourself.
Really, carb timing isn’t some big secret and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Base your pre-workout carbs on how long before working out you eat. Unless it’s extenuating circumstances, you probably don’t need carbs while you’re training. Then just be sure to replenish your carbs before you train again the next day. Do all that and your gains should come just fine.