A year or so ago I did an awful video from my car on carbohydrates and how to eat them to stay lean, build muscle and for workout energy. The video was terrible but I got a lot of questions on it, so here is video #2 on how to lose fat and build muscle with carbohydrate timing.
Also in this post, an excerpt from my (almost finished, just doing the cover) book “When Calories & Cardio Don’t Cut it” on the same subject
The carbohydrates not immediately used for fuel can be stored as ‘glycogen’. The liver can store a little bit of glycogen but, although the liver is quite a large organ and a big hitter in the organ world, it really doesn’t like to store much glycogen, maybe a few hundred calories. However, what we really rely on for glycogen storage is our muscles.
The more muscle we have, the more carbohydrates we can store as glycogen. That might mean a thousand or several thousand calories worth of carbohydrates, depending on how much muscle you have. How much we store in muscles also depends on how active the muscle is; conditioned athletes having the ability to store a lot more glycogen than most people.
Beware: once carbohydrates enter a muscle they remain there until that muscle uses that ‘glycogen’ as energy. This is critical if you want to lose weight. If you find yourself sedentary for any reason you will not deplete your muscles’ glycogen stores. If you eat an excess of carbohydrates, the muscles stores will max out and those carbohydrates will show up as body fat.
Dealing with this fact depends on circumstance. If, for example, you are sick in the hospital you may need carbohydrates to heal, so you cannot just cut them out. By contrast, if you’re on vacation, resting your butt on a beach lounger for a week, you may want to reconsider that dessert they’re offering you. If your muscles are not active then that dessert is going straight to that thing you’re sitting on.
- There is a limit to how many carbohydrates can be stored in muscle.
- Stored carbohydrates are called glycogen
- Glycogen will only fuel the muscle it is in. Only liver glycogen can travel and fuel the rest of the body.
With this in mind, consider the concept of “carbing up”; an age-old practice of eating huge amounts of carbohydrates before an event. The story goes this will give you energy and fuel.
If you can only store X amount of carbohydrates, what is the point of eating 10 x that amount? Where is the excess meant to go? I’ll give you one guess.
Over the years I have met with many clients who came to see me because they gained weight getting ready for an endurance event. The amount of carbohydrates they were told to eat is always the reason why.
TO MAKE A BAD STORY EVEN WORSE…
Carbohydrates are transported into muscle by the hormone insulin. When we eat a high carbohydrate meal our blood sugar increases and triggers insulin. The body dislikes high levels of sugar in the blood and it’s insulin’s job to get rid of it. When blood sugar is high insulin will not only transport the carbohydrates out of our blood but it will also lock fat in our fat cells. It makes good sense that insulin traps one source of fuel while it deals with an abundance of another.
When we are working out insulin is inhibited, which also makes good sense, as we want to keep carbohydrates in the blood to travel to the muscles being used. Glut4 is the transporter that takes sugar from the blood to the working muscles while we are exercising. When the muscle is dormant glut4 is not active and we rely again on insulin to remove sugar from the blood. The kicker here is that it takes a “boat load” of insulin to get carbohydrates into an active muscle. If insulin can’t get the carbohydrates into the muscle where does it end up? In fat cells.
I’m sure you’ve heard the Old Wives Tale, “Don’t eat before bedtime!”
They should be saying, “Don’t eat carbohydrates at night.”
The most relaxed part of the day for most people is the evening. Sitting on the couch watching TV or trolling social media. Not the ideal time to order pizza or to eat cookies or pasta. Your muscles are rested and it would take a lot of insulin to get any of those carbs into your inactive muscles. If the carbs cannot travel to muscles they will end up in fat.
If you eat enough carbohydrates to elicit a huge insulin response, then insulin will do its job and trap fat in fat cells.
If you’re trying to lose weight skip the carbs at night and stick to protein, fat and vegetables. If you’re working out at night then you can disregard the Old Wives Tale altogether because your muscles are active and receptive and ready to store more carbohydrates.
The carbohydrates your muscles store are actually the fuel you need for your next workout, which brings me on to another gem.
“Eat before your workout to fuel your workout.”
You wake up and have a hearty carb-rich breakfast in preparation for your workout.
The fear is if you don’t have that breakfast you won’t have the energy or strength to get through your training session.
Knowing what you know now does it make sense to have that breakfast? You just woke up so the muscles are not active, they are not primed to take on those pancakes but not to worry, your fat cells will oblige.
In the summer of 2010 a gentleman came to see me at my nutrition office in Santa Monica and he was pretty upset as he had just dedicated six months of his life to transforming himself from (his words) “a lifelong coach potato” into a man who ran the LA Marathon. He ran with a running group and had a goal to raise money for a charity close to his heart and also to lose the weight he had been gaining since he turned 40.
He completed the marathon, raised the money and gained ten pounds.
He sat in my office furious, accusatory, even though this was my first time meeting him. He left the office understanding why he had gained weight and with a plan to correct it. His coaches had encouraged that hearty breakfast and a heavy carb diet. He was still furious but at least it was no longer directed at me. I think he was heading straight to the running club that had told him to eat bagels and bananas for breakfast.
Please know that even the most well-intentioned coach or exercise instructor may be giving outdated advice
As a personal trainer, I signed up for a weekend course to be a running coach. Most of the attendees worked with novice runners, organizing running clubs and charitable events. I learned a lot, but was excited for day two when they were to cover nutrition. I’ll never forget that the module, which should have been an hour and was completed in 15 minutes, was summed up by the instructor (an ectomorph) telling the coaches, “Get your clients to eat well and running will take care of the rest.”
I would suggest that the majority of people join a running club hoping it helps them get in shape. I would also guess that most recreational runners are not ectomorphs. When the well-meaning, passionate coaches are not given the guidance that they need, then we end up with angry men knocking on the door of people like me.
To reduce body fat or to keep it low it is wise to plan your intake around your exercise, but what if you want to grow?
Insulin is both a storage facilitator and a growth factor. The main growth factors being Protein (especially the amino acid leucine) growth hormone, testosterone, and big heavy weights. If you’re trying to add some mass then limiting that insulin response 24/7 may not be the fastest approach. This is why bodybuilder “bulk up,” by eating huge amounts of food they create a massive insulin response. Add this to their hormonal state, their protein and their hours in the gym and muscle is born.
It’s a very fun approach to mass building until you have to lose all the extra fat you gained along the way. Competition diets are knarly, months of restriction can actually lead to losing muscle and can become a case of 2 steps forward and 1 step back when it comes to using a bulking cycle to make gains.
Where the tortoise can beat the hare is in using nutritional timing to build muscle while not gaining the fat that you are going to have to drop at a later date. We can choose to eat our carbohydrates after our workouts for that muscle glycogen load and then at another time of the day to produce the insulin/growth factor spike. The rest of the day we can keep the carbs low to keep from storing fat.
This approach isnt the fastest for weight loss and its not the fastest for muscle gain, but it can do both. This approach will take more patience as results will seem painfully slow, but it is a way of preserving the valuable muscle you gain and it means you can avoid that soul-destroying contest prep diet – that might strip some of your gains away anyway.
Often that growth meal is eaten last thing at night which goes directly against our old wives tale but there is an advantage to eating that carb heavy meal before bed time
High blood sugar leads to low blood sugar (in a healthy person) so that high carb growth meal will trigger insulin, insulin will take the carbs out of your blood leaving you exhausted. If you’re going to do this deliberately then best to do it before bed so that your food coma and sleep become one
Gaining muscle and losing fat are thought of mutually exclusive goals, but with correct nutrient timing both become possible.
Joanne works with nutrition clients worldwide via Whatsapp, Skype, FB
Personal Training is available at her private gym in Eagle, Idaho
310 704 6569