Let’s make one thing perfectly clear; in order to increase lean muscle and decrease body fat you SHOULD eat carbohydrates. Yes, it is possible to do both with very few carbs but its not as effective, enjoyable, or sustainable. Now that’s out of the way we can get down to the “nitty gritty” of how many carbs and how often you should consume them throughout the day. First, we must take a look at the type of carbohydrates we should have in our diets.
When we say “carbohydrates” we’re referring to carb sources with high amounts of fiber. The reason? High fiber foods aid in digestion, satiation, waste removal, and improved cholesterol levels. Carbohydrate sources high in fiber, and ideal for training purposes, are whole-grain breads, oats, fruits, root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, etc.), brown rice, and quinoa (notice how quinoa is listed as a “carb” and NOT a “protein” source?). Not only are carbs used for overall body health but, they are necessary for helping your body replenish glycogen stores (i.e. energy) in your muscles and improve brain function (side note: our brains use up approximately 30% of the calories we consume daily to function properly…and our brains loooove carbs).
While there are several approaches to distributing your carbs throughout the day I prefer to use the “workout prioritization” approach. This means you plan your carbs around the time of your workout. This doesn’t mean all of your carbs are consumed around your training time but they take priority when dividing your carbs up between all your meals. Let’s take a look at someone who’s consuming 250 grams of carbs in a day:
Meal 1: 50g
Meal 2: 60g*
Meal 3: 30g*
Meal 4: 70g*
Meal 5: 40g
Meal 6: 0g (bed time protein shake)
*Meal 2 is pre-workout meal, Meal 3 is intra-workout shake, and Meal 4 is post-workout meal
Don’t worry about the numbers; this could be a large individual trying to cut fat or a smaller individual trying to increase lean muscle. That’s not important. What’s important is the distribution and timing of the carbohydrates. If you remember earlier in the article I mentioned carbohydrates importance for energy storage. This would explain why large portions of carbs are in meal 2. This ensures plenty of energy is stored in the muscles and ready for use during the training session. But, if we have plenty of carbs pre-workout why do we need any during the workout? While our muscles may have plenty of glycogen (energy stored in muscles) ready to go we still need a quick boost of a fast-acting carbohydrate such as a carb powder or sugary beverage to let our bodies know, “Hey, it’s time to work!”
Following our workout we need to replenish our glycogen stores and improve protein absorption. Carbohydrates greatly enhance this process so all the macro and micronutrients our bodies need to rebuild are absorbed properly and not wasted. The post-workout meal is ideal for the greatest influx of carbohydrates into our body.
But, what about the days we DO NOT train? Should we skip carbs all together? NO! Remember, your body is constantly rebuilding. No, you don’t need to eat as many carbs as a training day since your body doesn’t require as much energy to function but they are still necessary to repair your muscles and get them ready for your next workout session. So, on non-training days your carb distribution should be evenly distributed. Example below:
Meal 1: 30g
Meal 2: 30g
Meal 3: 30g
Meal 4: 30g
Meal 5: 30g
Side Note: There’s only 5 meals instead of 6 because we are not consuming an intra-workout shake.
Having evenly distributed carbs throughout the day will ensure adherence to your diet and fitness goals. Even a perfect plan can’t work if you don’t follow it. While the amount of carbs you consume will vary based on training goals it is important to focus on distributing them as you see fit. You might notice you need more or fewer carbs pre-workout. In this instance you’ll need to remove carbs from another meal. This will take time and practice.
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