Carbohydrates get a bad rap in some fitness circles. The energy-giving macronutrient is misunderstood – largely because of the way carbs work in the body and the variance in ‘quality’ you might find between certain foods containing them. For example, foods containing lots of refined sugar such as donuts or chocolate bars will function differently from those with slower-releasing carbs such as wholegrain pasta or bread.
In our last article, we talked about how carbs work – but let’s quickly recap: carbohydrates are a macronutrient that your body converts into energy to fuel activity. If you consume too many carbs and don’t use them, your body can convert this unused energy into fat – which is why many different diets demonise carbs.
‘Complex’ carbs are foods that contain carbohydrates and fibre or starch to slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, whereas ‘simple’ carbs contain sugars that release quickly and spike insulin levels, ultimately leading to a process where any unused energy is turned into fat storage.
However, if you understand what your fitness goals are and know how carbs work, you can manage your carbohydrate intake and fuel your exercise in a more efficient way. Why fear carbs when you can take advantage of them to smash your gym goals?
So how many carbs per day are right for you?
In the UK, the NHS advises that complex/starchy carbs should take up about ⅓ of the plate on any meal you eat. However, that is a general approach and not as specific to certain goals. The real answer is that carb amounts vary depending on your goals and even then are dependent on your circumstances.
If, for example, you want to lose weight, reducing carbs may be beneficial – but it might also be a bad idea if you’re on a certain diet such as a plant-based one that relies heavily on carbs for energy. Likewise, increasing carbs to support a more active lifestyle such as marathon training might be a good idea – but you might have limiting conditions such as diabetes that will restrict your approach.
Despite this, the NHS’ advice is still useful: the body digests starchy carbs, those that contain more starch and fibre, slower than refined carbs. This means it provides a longer-lasting energy boost and is not as likely to be ‘wasted’ and converted into fat. Try to eat more wholegrain carbs throughout the day and only eat more refined options pre-exercise for a fast-release when you need it.
At Oatein, we utilise the power of oats and their complex carbohydrate profile to create protein snacks and nutritional products that fuel your goals – whether you want to bulk up, slim down or train for specific sports…
How many carbs to build muscle?
Carbohydrates play an important role in building muscle. Not only do they contribute to the total calories you take in each day, they also play an active part in how your muscle cells grow. Carbs are critical in supplying the energy your body needs to perform protein synthesis and reknit muscle fibres.
For that reason, most bodybuilding programmes recommend around 4-7g of carbs per kg of body weight per day. You should focus your carb intake to pre and post-workout so that you can fuel your routine and then give your body what it needs afterwards. Some bodybuilders do this by consuming slower-releasing starchy carbs around lunch, then faster-releasing carbs quickly after training to help replenish depleted glycogen stores.
How many carbs should I eat to lose weight?
Losing weight is, surprisingly, not really about carbohydrates Instead, it’s all about consuming less total calories than you expend in a day. However, carbs are critical to fuelling exercise so you must balance any increase in training with an increase in carbs.
However, that’s only in reference to wholegrain and starchy carbs. Refined sugars and junk food are full of carbs that release too quickly into the bloodstream, spiking insulin levels and causing your body to store excess sugars as fat. They don’t offer the same quality of lasting energy, so are largely useless if you’re trying to build an exercise-focused weight loss routine. Sugary drinks, especially, are essentially empty calories – so get rid of them entirely.
How many carbs for marathon training and other sports?
Carbs have a greater role in long-distance exercise than many other nutrients – providing the fuel reserves needed to push you further. For specific sports such as marathon training or swimming where you’re active for more than an hour each day, you’ll need to up your carb intake to around 5-8g per kg of body weight to help give your body the raw energy needed to keep exercising. Remember: you’ll also need protein to recover post-workout as your muscles will need it.
Whatever your goal, Oatein’s range of complex carbohydrate-containing protein snacks is ideal for pre or post-workout nutrition. Unleash the power of oats and shop the range today.