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Workout nutrition: when does carbohydrate timing matter?

With my casual talks to gym goers, recreational and elite athletes alike I am constantly asked on what to eat BEFORE and/or AFTER a training session.

To the querier, a random question like this may seem like a “no brainer” for a practicing sports nutrition coach. But the truth is, such is a tricky question to answer because there are a lot of factors to consider in order to appropriately give a “general” advice.

In fact, aside from answering the WHAT, the WHEN or the timing of nutrient intake should also be contextualized. Because most exercisers either overestimate or underestimate its relative importance. Many forget that the need to consume immediate PRE or POST WORKOUT nutrition exists in varying degrees of importance.

Take for example the timing of carbohydrate consumption. Pre, during, or post workout carbohydrate intake matters most when there is an immediate need for nutrient availability (or possible depletion of it) usually to prolong endurance performance. This specifically applies to exercise durations of approximately 2 hours or more.

Carbohydrate timing shouldn’t be much of a concern when exercise duration is one hour or less. Also take note that carbohydrate intake just right before or during exercise becomes less effective when sufficient meal is consumed prior to a session.

On the other hand, immediate post training replenishment becomes crucially important when there is minimal recovery time (i.e. less than 8h), especially during multiple exhaustive training sessions in a day or when carbohydrate intake is sub-optimal. Beyond this, carbohydrate timing for recovery is not that crucial as long as overall carbohydrate needs are met. And this is actually the more important factor that active individuals should focus on because nutrient timing is just SECONDARY to nutrient adequacy.

Airfried potato wedges are a delicious low fat option that can be included in your meal plan

Indeed, adequacy of carbohydrate intake is highly individualized and sport-specific. And the easiest way of meeting requirements is through the inclusion of a carbohydrate rich food like potatoes on main meals. Potatoes are a good option because they don’t only provide carbohydrates but the also contain vitamins and minerals that are necessary for optimum athletic performance. Some of which are as follows:

  • Iron - helps in maximizing oxygen delivery in the body and to the working muscles

  • Vitamin B6 - helps in energy production

  • Vitamin C - antioxidant, aids in collagen production, and supports iron absorption

  • Potassium - an electrolyte needed for muscle function

In summary, always remember that carbohydrate intake sufficiency should always be the priority. Timing of intake shouldn’t be much of a concern among those who:

  1. are trying to lose weight and/improve overall health,

  2. are novice to intermediate exercisers,

  3. ate sufficient meal prior a workout session of 60 min duration or less,

  4. are not training for competitive events or not involve in endurance competition.

Otherwise, when exercise session are both exhaustive and of long duration, both adequacy and timing of carbohydrate intake are of particular importance.

What about you? What do you usually eat before, during, and after your workout? Let me know in the comments section below.

Full disclosure: This post was sponsored by Potatoes USA - Philippines, but all opinions stated above are my own.

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