Carbs for Maximum Performance

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This is a warning to all you low-carb fanatics out there: you're not going to want to hear this. I am going to tell you why it’s crucial to get your carbohydrates for maximum performance.

Obviously, goals impact your nutritional needs. Whether your goal is to get stronger, go longer, or lean out, you must adjust your nutrition plan to achieve these goals. Pretending this isn’t true or assuming there is always one solution leads to a ridiculous amount of misinformation about performance nutrition.

First, let’s take a look at carbohydrates’ role in the body. As you know, there are three macronutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Each of these carries out a specific role in the body. And yes, they are all important.  

Carbohydrates specifically carry out 4 major functions: 

They are the energy source. This is very important in terms of high intensity training. ATP (energy) is derived from blood glucose and muscle glycogen.
They spare protein. When muscle glycogen is in short supply, glucose is derived from fat and to some degree, protein (amino acids). This can and will deplete protein stores and potentially lead to muscle catabolism.
Metabolic primer. Carbohydrates catabolize during exercise and actually serve as a fat oxidizer.  
Fuel for nervous system. Carbs don’t just sit in your body and turn into fat from spiking insulin levels. They act as a fast form of fuel; they are the primary fuel for not only your body, but your brain.

Our bodies are smart, obviously. If you significantly reduce your carbohydrate intake, your body will find other ways to maintain blood glucose in your body, (i.e., ketosis).  

You don't need to cut carbs.

So, back to the beginning: why are they so important?

Our bodies are made to store fat. In fact, that’s what our bodies are made to do for survival purposes, and they are very good at it. However, the same cannot be said for carbohydrates.  Remember, carbs are stored as blood glucose and liver and muscle glucose to some degree. In other words, if you use up all your stored glycogen during exercise, you won’t have more stored up to tap into-- that is, unless you eat more carbs.  

We’ve all hit the wall before. You just run out of gas. Why is this? Simply put, you have tapped out all of your stored glycogen and your body then turns to using primary fat as it’s energy supply. While this is good for those trying to lean out, it is not ideal for maximum performance.  

So where do you fit in? It comes back to your goals. Are you a performance athlete? Are you simply dieting trying to burn fat? Either or, carbs are very important to your success. Everyone is different, and we all metabolize food at different rates. Finding what works the best for you is the key, and this is why consulting with a trained professional can be very beneficial to your success.

So where do you start?  

My suggestion - If you are trying to maximize performance and are an endurance athlete, you typically burn through stored glycogen much faster than strength athletes. Therefore, an increase in carbohydrate consumption is necessary. I would aim for getting in at least 50% of your daily calories from quality carbs, perhaps even more.  

On the flip side, if you are trying to lean out and drop a few pounds, somewhere on the spectrum of 30-40% of quality carbs would do the trick.  

Remember, you know your body and how it responds. Do not jump ship within the first week if things are not working out for you. Your body needs to adjust before performing. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

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