If you paid attention to our Endurance section, you may remember that carbs are your body’s main source of energy. Specifically, glucose is transformed into ATP through a process known as aerobic glycolysis. But where does this glucose come from?
The first and most significant source is blood glucose.
You eat something, your gastrointestinal tract processes the food and absorbs the glucose. Then, glucose is carried throughout your body with blood. Whenever an organ, tissue, or cell needs some energy—it takes some of this glucose and processes it into ATP. Nice!
During intense exercise, using up all the body’s blood glucose could end up in severe hypoglycemia, a dangerous metabolic state that may even lead to coma and death. That’s why the body has a plan B for these cases: glycogenolysis.
During glycogenolysis, the body breaks down glycogen into glucose, which is then used for ATP and energy. Glycogen is your body’s most convenient way of storing glucose for future action. Glycogen is stored primarily in the liver and muscles, and it takes some time to be restored after your body uses it up.
The third way is called gluconeogenesis, which consists of making glucose from non-carbohydrate substances like fatty acids, lactic acid, and proteins. You could say this is an emergency pathway to keep blood glucose levels above the critically low marks. Gluconeogenesis is seen during fasting, extreme low-carb diets, and VERY intense exercise.
These three processes happen at the same time in your body, it’s all a matter of keeping them well-balanced. But what does this mean in terms of working out, building muscle, and being active in general?
Carbs and exercise: the key principles
- The best way to maintain optimal energy levels is through eating the right carbs at the right time. A few hours before working out, eat some complex carbs and fibers (whole grains, legumes, etc.). These are metabolized gradually over time, ensuring a steady blood glucose level. Then, about 30-40 minutes before exercise, you can take some simple carbs (sugar, fruits, milk products, etc.) to cause a short-term spike in blood glucose that your body will use up for immediate action in the gym.
- Allow your body to replenish glycogen stores between workouts. Besides getting yourself some quality rest with plenty of sleep, this means eating enough carbs and proteins AFTER you exercise, with some studies suggesting at least 0.8 g of carbs per kg of body weight AND 0.2 g of protein per kg of body weight immediately after exercise and 2 hours after exercise. Restoring glycogen stores takes from 22 hours to 4 days in most people.
- Pre-workout blends (PWBs) can help you fuel immediate activity. As far as supplementing goes, PWBs can give you as much as a bit of extra energy substrate to fuel your workout, but that’s pretty much it. They won’t affect your glycogen stores and won’t help you restore them faster.
Do you need carbs in you pre-workout?
Getting yourself an extra dose of carbs immediately before physical activity is always a great idea, but the source doesn’t matter much. In other words, you could just eat a banana or drink a cup of sweet coffee. Glucose is glucose, no matter how you look at it. Pre-workout blends are a convenient option to get ”everything at once” instead of taking multiple supplements or combining them with usual food, but they aren’t exactly required for a successful workout.
– The Cost Plus Nutrition Team