At one my point, my personal philosophy regarding pre-workout carbohydrates was very different. I didn’t think it made that much of a difference until I read up on the subject of nutrient timing and stumbled upon the theory of Metabolic Flexibility – the body’s tendency to prioritize carbohydrate metabolism during exercise. When I tested the theory on myself, I couldn’t believe it; the difference was almost night and day. My work capacity skyrocketed.
I had clients of mine experiment with pre-workout carbohydrates and their results further support the idea that nutrient timing does make a difference and that many people do respond with performance increases. That’s part of why I started Eat To Perform – I want people to know that there is an answer for athletes at all levels. We wrote and released a heavily referenced eBook on the subject, “Metabolic Flexibility for Fat Loss” and started what could be considered a revolution…I dunno, you’d have to tell me.
So if pre-workout carbs improve performance, what role do carbs play in fueling exercise when you work out in the morning and don’t have a pre-workout meal? Luckily, the answer isn’t complicated.
No, you don’t have to get up an hour early to eat a sweet potato to perform your best. There’s actually no explicit reason to worry about having breakfast – you’re still digesting your dinner at this point – so we recommend getting your pre-workout carbs in the night before, so to speak. This is somewhat dependent upon when you have your final meal and how long you sleep. If you’re going to longer than 3-4 hours after waking to train, then you should consider having a quick breakfast like a banana or something.
Carbs, Insulin, and Fat Gain
Most people understand that carbs stimulate insulin secretion, and they perceive that as a negative because insulin is often regarded as a “fat building” hormone. This view of insulin is incomplete – insulin is more like a signal for cells to allow nutrients in, including amino acids from protein.
People who resistance train handle carbohydrates differently as well – their muscles are more sensitive to insulin, and this gives them an advantage in deciding where the carbs go. What the muscles use up won’t get stored as fat. Dietary fat is easier to store as body fat in this scenario.
But How Do Carbs Help Fat Loss?
Carbs help you do more work in the gym! Doing more work – more reps, faster, with more weight – and eating enough total Calories will help you put on muscle mass. More muscle equals improved performance, and that results in even greater energetic demands. You can’t perform a whole lot of high intensity work on a low carb diet – fat is fine for pure endurance events but most people are doing strength endurance work that absolutely depends upon carbs! It’s really that simple – use the right fuel for the right job and you’ll be stronger and leaner!