Food First: Counting Carbs

Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the body during periods of activity and need to be consumed in sufficient quantities to allow protein and fats to be used for tissue repair, recovery and growth. Rarely does anyone lack carbohydrates in the diet. More often, too many are consumed, which can lead to excess body fat levels.

The majority of carbohydrate intake should be of the complex, slow burning variety such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes or yams, brown rice and whole grains as well as fibrous vegetables. One exception to this rule is the post-training meal which should consist of fast burning, simple carbohydrates (along with quality protein such as whey protein isolate) that enter the bloodstream quickly and spike insulin levels to replenish glycogen stores and drive nutrients into the cells.

The required amount of carbohydrates is highly dependent upon metabolism, activity levels, training intensity, duration and frequency and body composition goals, even more so than for protein or fats. Carbohydrates are the most easily manipulated macronutrient as they are non-essential relative to protein and fats. Consume less if activity levels are low or to cut weight or decrease body fat. Consume more for an intense training regimen or to gain weight. As a very general rule of thumb, 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight would be a good starting point from which adjustments can be made up or down as necessary. Hard training athletes may require 2-3 grams per lb of bodyweight or more to provide sufficient calories for fuel and recovery.

The largest amounts of carbohydrates should be consumed first thing in the morning and before and after training. Carbohydrate intake should be minimized before bed as they can be more readily converted to body fat at this time when energy requirements are low. Also, too many carbohydrates before bed can blunt the body’s natural release of growth hormone.

Best Sources:

Oatmeal

Yams

Sweet potatoes

Brown rice

Quinoa

Vegetables (green varieties are best)

Fruit (apple, orange, berries)

Do you Drink?

Don’t forget about water. We are up to 70% water at any given time. Water is critical to the function of all the cells and metabolic processes in our bodies. Adequate water intake helps remove toxins from the body, prevent injuries and maintain athletic performance during activity. Just ask any athlete who has had to cut weight for a competition how dehydration impacts their energy levels.

To stay hydrated, it is important to drink before you feel thirsty as by this time it is already too late – you are dehydrated. The minimum daily intake for everyone should be 2 liters, with the average intake for a physically active person at about 3-4 liters.

Putting it together

Now that you have the basic information required to build a solid nutritional foundation, it’s time to develop a plan based on your individual needs and goals. Remember, the above guidelines are general in nature and must be tailored to your specific requirements. The important thing to understand is that nutrition is at least equally as important as training and exercise and can be up to 80% of the equation in achieving your fitness goals. For the serious athlete, a proper nutrition program to complement your training program is necessary to maximize performance and recovery, prevent injuries and can help take you to the next level. For that reason, you must put as much effort into developing your nutrition program as your training routine. Get a solid nutritional base down first and then we’ll talk about supplementation.

Kevin Ferrell, CA, CFT

Professional Health and Wellness Coach

Team Canada Bodybuilder

Co-founder, CRE8iON Fitness & Wellness Inc.

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