Part 1 of this blog series explained how exercise in regards to “weight loss” can be a slippery slope, because the harder you work the more energy you burn, which means, the more energy (in the form of food) your body requires for proper recovery. This delicate dance of energy balance (calories in versus calories out) can quickly spiral out of control if you are refueling with the wrong foods, thus rapidly sabotaging all your hard work in the gym. Again, this is worth repeating…“You can’t out work a bad diet”! So working out and eating the right foods consistently is a recipe for good health, but what if good is not, “good enough”? What if you want to bypass good and head straight for great? Is there more we can do?
Well I am glad you asked! Part 1 of this blog also series told you that what you eat matters, but it did not discuss when. When? Does the timing of when to eat certain foods really matter? The short answer is YES, yes it does! Because food timing is the key to maximum performance. But before you try any of this I recommend that first you either, 1) have a good handle on your diet or 2) start (and complete) a 30-day challenge to “reset” your bodies hormones. Because once you have successfully removed sugar and have kept your carbohydrates fairly low (for at least 30-days), your hormones should reset back to normal (for the most part) thus turning your body back into a fat burning machine. So part 1 was about what, and part 2 is about not only what but also the when, because it is all about timing!
Review time: Our bodies preferred fuel source is fat, which is why we store it on our body, but glucose/glycogen(made from carbs) also plays a large role in fueling our body. Going into a little more detail…Fat is the bodies preferred fuel source for most everyday functions especially at low levels of physical effort. Glycogen, which is stored glucose, is mostly needed for high levels of physical exertion (among other things).
Remember the movie The Fast and the Furious? Before that movie came out, no one except for hardcore gear heads knew about Nitrous Oxide or “NOS”. The cars of the movie were fueled by gas, but each car also had a very limited supply of NOS, which when used, would significantly increase the cars performance. However, once the NOS was out they were not able to get that boost of performance again until the tanks were refilled. This is very similar to how our body works, fat is like gasoline, it fuels most of our everyday functions, but once we start to ramp up our exertion, up into the 70 to 90% of our max heart rate we really need glycogen.
Believe it or not, the first race scene from The Fast and the Furious (2001) is a great example of “carb timing” ;). See Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) not only used his NOS too soon, he also used too much, thus causing him to lose not only the race but also his car to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel). Check it out…
The same thing happens to us when we don’t understand how to eat for maximum performance, we either under-perform or we breakdown and/or both.
So if you are on top of the latest nutritional science you know that the amount of body fat you have is almost directly related to the amount of carbohydrates you eat. This is because the amount of glycogen you can store in your body is very, very, limited, so once your glycogen “tanks” are full, your body converts the remaining glucose into body fat. This becomes a delicate dance between eating the right amount of carbs to fuel your workouts (to help you recover), but not eating so much that you “overfill your tanks”, causing you to increase the amount of fat being stored on your body. Trust me, this is a bigger issues that you think, especially if you are exercising regularly at a fairly high intensity level (hearth rate above 70% of your max).
Here’s the issue: If you don’t eat enough carbs to top off your glycogen stores, you run the risk of not only having your metabolism slow down, but you will also feel very sluggish, you muscles will always feel sore or achy, and you may find that your overall exercise intensity has decreased. This happen to me when I first started experimenting with the primal diet. I was doing triathlons, which meant I was doing multiple workouts a day at a relativity high intensity. For the first couple of months of my primal experiment I was fine, but then I started to notice a decline in my performance. All of a sudden I started to notice that my swimming, biking, and running times were declining. Right before I started this primal experiment I was running a 20-min 5K (which is respectable) however, after a few months, it took everything I had to run the same route in 24-mins. This is a big decline! Not to mention that I just felt like crap, and my legs felt very heavy. So at this point I knew something was wrong and as I started to research this I found out that other “primal athletes” were experiencing similar symptoms.
The solution was to increase that amount of carbohydrates (fruit, potatoes, and white rice). But unfortunate it wasn’t as simple as just increasing my carbohydrates, because if I ate too many my body fat would increase (good bye abs). The simple fix is learning when to eat carbohydrate. If you ate the carbs immediately (one to two hours) after a workout, most of the carbohydrates would be used for muscle repair, and refilling your “NOS tanks”, this means that very little if any of the carbohydrates would be stored as fat. This is a good thing!
How to use carb timing for not only better performance but to look your best:
- Rule 1 – Never eat carbohydrates, other than veggies in the morning. This means no fruit, no potatoes, no rice, and no sugar (well sugar should never be consumed). Every night when we sleep we go into a fasted state, which is where the term breakfast comes from, we are “breaking the fast”. So the goal is to extend our fasting window and eating carbohydrates first thing spikes our insulin and breaks our fast. This is why Bulletproof coffee is such an amazing product, it gives us the fat (for energy) and the keytones for our brain but does not spike our blood sugar. So you get all the benefits of extending your fast, but you won’t feel hungry or suffer from “brain fog”. If you don’t want to do Bulletproof coffee, eat a breakfast that contains fat and protein and zero carbs other than veggies. The only exception to this rule is if you workout early in the morning (this is discussed in rule 2).
- Rule 2 – If you worked out,1 to 2 hours afterwards is the best time to consume your carbohydrates. So if you love your fruit smoothie, don’t drink it for breakfast, drink it right after your workout. Also depending on how hard you worked out, you may want to have a small potato or a small amount of white rice.
- Rule 3 – If you are taking a rest day from working out or you are injured and/or can’t workout for an extended period of time, strive to keep your carbs low, 100-grams or less. If you do eat carbs, eat them later in the day, preferably for dinner (remember we want to extend that fasting window for as long as possible).
- Rule 4 – Once a week do a carb re-feed. Some people call this a “cheat day”, but I don’t believe in eating mass amounts of junk food cause it is my “cheat day”. But what I recommend is to increase your carbohydrate consumption. This is a day to eat as much rice, potatoes (sweet or white), quinoa, fruit, or any other approved carb as you want. I never recommend eating sugar but if you must, this is the day. The key is enjoy this day, go out for some sushi, make some homemade hash-browns, or eat a loaded baked potato, enjoy yourself. The purpose of a carb re-feed is keep your hormones in check. If you workout very hard consistently while simultaneously keeping your carbs low, your body starts to get “stressed out”, thus releasing Cortisol, the “fat storing” hormone. If you really want to be gangster, you can combine your carb re-feed day with a protein fast day. This is something I learned about while attending the Bulletproof Conference and I have been doing it for the last 3-weeks. If you are interested in learning more about a protein fast please read this blog.
- Rule 5 – Referring back to rules 2, 3, and 4. This is an experiment and should be treated as such. This means, I can’t tell you exactly how many grams of carbohydrates you should eat because everyone is different, we have different genetics, different fitness goals, different hormones, and even different builds. But here are some guidelines to help you get started on your own healthy life experiment.
- Non-work days – Strive to keep your carb consumption to 100-grams or less.
- Workout days – Increase your carbohydrates to 150-200 grams.
- Carb Re-feed days – Increase your carbs to 200-250 grams
So if you have completed your 30-day food challenge and/or have a good understanding of what to and what not to eat, the next step is to follow the 5-rules listed above and start concentrating on when you eat. But please don’t blindly follow them, treat it as an experiment, remember we are all different. So pay attention to the amount of carbs you consume on certain days and most importantly document how you look, feel, and perform on these same days. Because if you treat it like an experiment, it won’t take long till have have an even better understanding of your overall health. And the more you understand about your own health the better you will look, the better you will perform and the more successful you will be at life! Lets strive to THRIVE!