Carbohydrates: A Beginner's Guide to Getting a Pre-workout Energy Boost

True Protein Blog Avatar Fallback reviewed by our Nutrition Team 16 February 2018

Carbohydrates fuel our workout routine, represent the source of immediate energy for our entire body and help effectively burn calories and build muscle. Learn about their benefits and find out which carbs are best for pre- and post-workout supplements

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Carbohydrates: A Beginner's Guide to Getting a Pre-workout Energy Boost

The New Year’s resolution craze has passed, and though you might have decided to give that get fit and eat healthy decision another go, we have to ask: how’s it going for you?

We recently published an article to help you fight harmful eating habits and stated that such changes cannot be made overnight. With this in mind, we completely understand if you feel like you’re about to make most of your meals - cheat meals.

But why do we give up so easily?

Because healthy dietary habits are commonly followed by a regular fitness routine that hasn’t been a part of your everyday life up until now. And while it is completely normal to lack energy and stamina the first few trips to the gym, these low endurance levels tend to affect our motivation.

Fortunately, the solution is simple. However, it hasn’t been as obvious due to a number of myths that have casted a shadow of negativity around it: carbohydrates, that is, the infamous - carbs.

In the past, people have made rash and blunt conclusions saying things like ‘the more carbs you eat the more weight you gain’, when it is not as simple as that, and is completely untrue.

Allow us to tell you everything you need to know about carbohydrates, and how they are the most important ingredient in your new diet and workout routine.

(If you’re already familiar with their chemical characteristics, you can skip down to concrete meal ideas. If not, we suggest taking this crash course.)

What are Carbohydrates?

Let’s go down memory lane and try to remember our science class - carbohydrates are organic molecules that, alongside fat, represent one of the two primary fuel sources oxidized by our skeletal muscle tissue during prolonged exercise.

Structurally, there are two types:

  • simple, also known as mono- and disaccharides, which contain one or two linked sugar molecules and are more easily processed (fructose, glucose, galactose, ribose, mannose)
  • complex, called polysaccharides, that have more than two linked sugar groups (digestible - glycogen, starch and dextrins; partly digestible - raffinose, insulin; indigestible - cellulose, pectin)

Contrary to popular belief, not all carbohydrates have equal effect on our bodies. Each subtype affects how fast it will be digested and absorbed, what other nutrients it will provide, the enzyme action that occurs in our mouth and gut, as well as our perception of its sweetness and texture.

complex carbs

In layman’s terms, depending on the type of carbohydrate, you’re going to see different effects on your body. For instance, when consuming simple carbs (found in dairy products and processed sugar), you may notice elevations in blood triglyceride levels, insulin resistance or bad cholesterol. When it comes to some carbohydrates that are absorbed and digested slowly (unprocessed food, whole grains, fruits and vegetables), they allow you to take control over energy levels, insulin response and body composition.

Glucose, in particular, is one of your body’s absolute favorites, and considers this carb the primary fuel for all your daily activities. Muscles count on glucose for optimal movement, while other organs require it for proper functioning.

But be careful - though we’ve just shared a few positive words about the otherwise notorious glucose, note that not all sugars are considered good.

  • Healthy carbohydrate sources like nuts, fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains and legumes contain vitamins, fiber and minerals;
  • Foods with high calorie levels like candy, pastry, sodas and junk food in general have low nutritional value and are bad for our health.

Carbohydrates affect endurance performance and capacity

According to the research published in Sports Medicine Journal, carbohydrate ingestion during a prolonged moderate-to-HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) exercise can have a positive effect on endurance performance. They also proved to be highly beneficial for athletes involved in team sports which adjust their carb intake in accordance with the intensity and duration of the game.

high intensity interval training

What was ultimately drawn as a conclusion is the fact that carbohydrates actually fuel our fitness performance, represent the source of immediate energy for our entire body, and what many consider their most important role - they help us effectively burn calories and build muscle.

All in all, whether you are looking to lose weight or make some gains, certain subtypes of carbs are going to get you there faster. But be careful - as we’ve already stated above, not all are created equal and their intake should be incorporated into your diet with balance in mind.

Carbohydrates charge your body for a workout

Depending on the type of training that awaits you, your carb intake will vary - naturally, those who are about to take a light jog will require less carbohydrates than those who are going to run long distances or perform any high-intensity training session.

If you take up strenuous exercise that lasts more than one hour, or an hour and a half - know that muscle glycogen will deplete. One person contains a limited supply of glycogen in their muscles, and once the amount is consumed, the person can experience exhaustion, fatigue and overall reduction of endurance. For this reason, it is highly advisable to eat or drink foods rich in healthy carbs.

But, it is not just about the type of training that is ahead of you. The amount of carbohydrates a person should consume on a daily basis depends on their height, weight, age, etc., as well as the final goal they are looking to achieve. For more details, we’ll direct you towards the article published by The Science of Eating where you’ll find a more accurate formula.

Pre-workout Carbohydrates

It is highly advisable to have a healthy meal around an hour and a half prior to your workout, so that your body has enough time to process it. When it comes to the amount of carbs a meal should contain, Human Kinetics advises you to take about 50g of carbs, in combination with 14g of protein. However, note that this amount can vary depending on the individual, so track your training capacities and slightly modify your intake in accordance with your overall feeling if necessary.

Those whose final goal is weight loss, should cut the amount of carbs in half, meaning the meal should contain around 25g of carbohydrates and 14 grams of protein.

Light, carb-rich healthy meal ideas

Breakfast ideas for morning workouts

  • Dried fruit with Greek yogurt

While dried fruits are generally avoided during a weight loss process, when consumed in measured amounts, they are a great source of simple sugar. In combination with Greek yogurt, they provide your body with a sufficient amount of protein, as well.

dried fruit yoghurt

  • Oatmeal and porridge

A bowl of oatmeal and porridge contains complex carbohydrates, but it is also a source of fiber, meaning that your body will not feel hunger during a workout and will receive the sufficient amount of protein and muscle-protecting amino acids.

  • Omelette

An omelette should be consumed at least 2 hours before your training session. As it is made from whole eggs and egg whites, an omelette contains necessary amino acids and protein you need to build and grow lean muscle.

Lunch, dinner and snack ideas for late training sessions

  • Chicken with rice and vegetables

This combination is probably the most popular one among professional athletes and recreationals alike. From lean protein, complex carbohydrates and amino acids, it contains everything you need to promote muscle anabolism. Note, that this is best to be consumed at least 2 to 3 hours prior to a workout.

  • Bananas

Aside from bananas being a source of simple carbohydrates and natural sugars, they also contain potassium which is stored in your body for a limited amount of time. This is why you can eat a banana half an hour before a workout - it will give you an energy boost without being to heavy on the stomach.

  • Brown rice, whole grain bread and sweet potato

Consumed 2 to 3 hours before a workout, these are a great source of complex carbohydrates that will fuel you with a slow releasing energy to keep you at your maximum during the entire workout.

sweet potatoes

When it comes to supplements, True Protein Maltodextrin contains high GI carbohydrate and as such supplies your body with high energy levels immediately after consumption. True Protein Cluster Dextrin, as well, represents a great fuel for training sessions, due to its quick absorption into the bloodstream and gradual degradation which results in a balanced release of energy.

Post-workout Carbohydrates

Don’t wait more than 15 minutes to half an hour after finishing your training session to replenish your carbohydrates. For optimal muscle glycogen resynthesis, we advise eating 1g of carbohydrate per 1 kg of body weight, but depending on the training intensity and your size, the intake should be adjusted accordingly.

Aside from natural sources of carbohydrates, True Protein Dextrose supplement helps you replenish glycogen levels after a workout, alongside essential amino acids and nutrients.

The gist

We cannot stress enough the importance of carbohydrates for all your bodily functions.

Nevertheless, it is not all about the numbers, as depending on their subtype, they will affect your body differently - consuming carbohydrates found in juice and getting the same amount of carbs from a banana is not the same!

Carbohydrates bad reputation was built on this common newbie mistake, when in fact, they need to be the fundamental ingredient of our diet.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION: all content provided here is of a general nature only and is not a substitute for individualised professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and reliance should not be placed on it. For personalised medical or nutrition advice, please make an appointment with your doctor, dietitian or qualified health careprofessional.