This article is going to have relevance for every reader, be it athlete or not. We all want a leaner body because it makes us move more efficiently and look the way we want. The thing is, there are so many different tips out there for decreasing body fat that it’s hard to tell which ones are actually worthwhile and which ones aren’t. This one will touch on something I’m sure everyone struggles with: carbohydrates. Carbs are not the devil, in fact they’re extremely important. After reading a great article recently I decided I would help our readers understand how to utilize carbohydrates in their diet to help achieve their ideal physique. Now bear with me for a paragraph or two because I want to set up a theoretical background so you understand the recommendations at the end.
John Kiefer does a great job in that article describing the way your workout affects carb usage by your body, but I’m going to delve into the science a little bit here. When discussing carbohydrates and their effects on the body, the important terms to know are insulin resistance and insulin sensitivity. Insulin resistance is a physiological condition whereby insulin becomes less effective at reducing blood sugars. Basically, for our intents and purposes, you need to know that insulin is a hormone which facilitates glucose uptake by fat cells and muscle cells. If you become insulin resistant, this means that your fat cells and muscle cells aren’t utilizing insulin as well and your blood sugar levels will stay high which could eventually turn into type 2 diabetes. That’s bad. Insulin resistance is common with those suffering from obesity but it’s difficult to point to a specific dietary cause. However, it is known that a sedentary (inactive) lifestyle does contribute to insulin resistance. For this article, we’re not really touching on the diabetes portion, but it’s very important to keep in mind nonetheless. So insulin resistance is your body becoming less effective at using carbohydrates for muscle and fat; insulin sensitivity is just a reference to how your body is using insulin (insulin resistance = low insulin sensitivity). So we’re still on the same page right??
So where does exercise come in?? One of the effects of exercise is GLUT4 stimulation and increased insulin sensitivity. GLUT4 is a glucose transporter which binds with the muscle membrane to bring glucose into the muscle cell. So if GLUT4 is stimulated, it means more glucose is going into your muscles instead of your fat stores. Recent studies have shown that improving insulin sensitivity has positive effects for both obesity and Type 2 diabetes. “Exercise can restore mitochondrial function and insulin sensitivity, which may be crucial for a better prognosis in treating or preventing obesity” [Coelho, Pereira-Lancha. Effect of high-fat diets on body composition, lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and the role of exercise on these parameters.Metabolism. August 2011.]. Furthermore, “After a single bout of exercise, the ability of insulin to stimulate glucose uptake is markedly improved locally in the previously active muscles. This makes exercise a potent stimulus counteracting insulin resistance characterizing type 2 diabetes (T2D)” [Frosig, Richter. Improved insulin sensitivity after exercise: focus on insulin signaling. Obesity(silver Spring). Decmber 2009.].
How does this translate??
So now you’re wondering what all this means for your diet. Anywhere in the article that you read glucose, it’s referring to carbohydrates. One of the biggest things that you should note from this article is that your carbohydrate intake should be directly related to your exercise levels and times. For your diet, it’s not about going high carb or low carb overall but WHEN to do so. You should be breaking your day up in to pre workout and post workout time periods as Kiefer suggests, since your body will respond to foods differently at each time period. Before exercise, without GLUT4 stimulation, the glucose in your blood is not being shuttled predominantly to your muscles. So if your muscles are already full of glycogen, the glucose has nowhere to go but fat stores or to stay in the blood and raise blood sugar levels – both BAD. After exercise, your body and more specifically your muscles are extremely insulin sensitive and glucose is being shuttled directly to your muscles by GLUT4 to refill glycogen stores. This is important because you will not be able to build more muscle until glycogen is refilled (this is why your post workout shake MUST contain carbs).
So Pre Workout meals should consist primarily of protein and fats and very little or no carbohydrates. If you’re eating vegetables, this shouldn’t be a problem. Then Post Workout you should be having any meals with a higher carbohydrate content, whether it be sugars or complex carbohydrates. The closer you are to your workout, the more carbohydrates you should be consuming. So if you’re really looking at improving your body composition, you need to start focusing on a dynamic diet rather than a static diet. What I mean is, if you are working out today, that will change what you eat based on when you workout. If you’re not working out, you should probably focus more on fats and protein throughout the entire day. It doesn’t mean that small amounts of carbohydrates will hurt, it just means that carb rich meals (breads, rice, potatoes, PASTA) should be saved for Post Workout time periods.
If your workout schedule changes, your diet should change. Think about it this way, is your body doing the same thing on days you train on and days you don’t? If not, then why should you give it the same food/fuel?? It just doesn’t make sense.
So here’s the final take home challenge, and this is especially important for those with primarily fat loss goals: make a schedule for your day of your eating times and add in your exercise blocks. Plan the meals you plan to eat for the day, if your meals are high in carbohydrates, move them into the post exercise time slots with the highest carb meals directly after the exercise. For the meals pre exercise, cut down on the amount of carbohydrates in the meals if they seem very high (try 50g or less).
This information is a game changer, so go out there and change the game!
It’s About Getting Better!