There is no shortage of confusing information available on carbohydrate intake and its role in gaining and losing weight (fat). Some of that info is good, some, well, it’s not so good. Do carbs really deserve this bad reputation? And what role(s) does carbohydrate intake really play in relation to a regular training regimen?
Are Carbs Really As Guilty As Charged?
There is nothing inherently bad about carbs. However, they can be very addictive (especially sugars), and easy to over-consume which would yield a surplus of calories resulting in potential weight/fat gain. Another reason carbs get a bad reputation is due to the abundance of readily available processed carbs there are everywhere you look. These foods are added with preservatives to increase their shelf life, flavor, and texture, among others.
Here’s a simple answer to a very complex set of questions: carbohydrate intake should coincide with your activity level and energy demands. For example, on days that you have an intense workout (resistance training, biking, swimming, etc.), it is more beneficial to eat more carbs than on days you are more sedentary.
If you’re reading this article, you’re more than likely involved in some sort of training routine; so we’ll will dive into more of the specifics on how carbohydrate intake is a critical part of your training regimen.
Muscle Glycogen Replenishment
Muscle glycogen, also referred to as muscle energy, is a critical component of your training capacity. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates in muscle. It’s readily available when the muscle needs it. However, these energy ‘tanks’ empty rather quickly. Once your muscle uses up all the glycogen, serious fatigue and weakness will kick in. You’ve probably experienced this before.
You’re in the middle of a set and have completed 2-3 reps of an exercise. You start on the last set with the same weight which. Only now, the weight seems significantly heavier. Instead of performing 8 reps, like in the previous sets, you’re only able to get 5. What happened there? The weight didn’t get heavier. You didn’t necessarily get weaker. Your muscles just ran out of energy.
After your workout, it is important to replenish these glycogen stores. Carb intake following a workout is a great place to start. The amount of carbs consumed should depend on the muscle group worked. For example, following a strenuous leg day, more carbs should be consumed compared to a bicep/tricep workout. That’s because the legs are larger muscle group and have more glycogen that needs to be replaced. In a perfect world, you would consume just enough carbs to replenish your glycogen stores and help boost your recovery and there would be no excess.
Your body’s preferred source of energy is carbohydrates. However, it’s not the only source and the body can get by with little to no carb consumption – but that’s a whole article in itself. In most cases, you should be consuming adequate carbohydrates on a daily basis.
The amount will vary from person to person. Some have a higher carb tolerance than others so it’s important to find where you are on that spectrum. One thing can be sure, if you are feeling run-down, drowsy, and sluggish most of the time, this could be a result of insufficient carb intake. Consistent, high-intensity exercise combined with a low carbohydrate intake will yield some energy level lows in most people.
However, carbs are very easy to over-do, especially if you’re eating a lot of processed carbs. Quality carbs such as oatmeal, potatoes, and rice offer a lot more satisfaction when consumed, making you feel full. Yes, some carbs do deserve a bad name. However, they are not to be blamed. After all, you’re the one stuffing your face with them. Carbs are necessary for fueling your workouts and your day. So unless you’re implementing a ketogenic diet (again, a whole different article), it’s not the the best idea to neglect your carb intake.