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Eat carbs before and during your workout

This is an excerpt from Power Eating by Susan Kleiner and Maggie Greenwood-Robinson.

Preworkout carbohydrate: Is it a good idea? It depends. If you’re in a mass-building phase and want to push it to the max, fuel yourself with carbohydrate before and during your workout. In this phase, the best timing recommendation for eating before exercise is to eat a small meal of carbohydrate and protein one and a half to two hours before working out. This meal should contain about 50 grams of carbohydrate (200 calories) and 14 grams of protein (56 calories). These amounts can vary based on your individual calorie needs as well as the amount of food you can tolerate before exercise.

If you are trying to lose fat, you want to minimize the carbohydrate you take in before your workout since you are training to burn fat. I suggest cutting your carbohydate-protein meal in half. Thus, your meal would contain about 25 grams of carbohydrate and 14 to 15 grams of protein.

And, of course, you should make sure you are always well hydrated. Drink 2 cups (473 milliliters) of fluid within two hours of working out and another cup (237 milliliters) 15 minutes before exercise. Following this pattern will ensure that you gain the greatest energy advantage from your preexercise meal without feeling full while you exercise.

If you want a little extra boost, try drinking a liquid carbohydrate just before your workout. In a study of strength trainers, one group consumed a carbohydrate drink just before training and between exercise sets. Another group was given a placebo. For exercise, both groups did leg extensions at about 80 percent of their strength capacity, performing repeated sets of 10 repetitions with rest between sets. The researchers found that the carbohydrate-fed group outlasted the placebo group, performing many more sets and repetitions.

Another study turned up a similar finding. Exercisers drank either a placebo or a 10 percent carbohydrate beverage immediately before and between the 5th, 10th, and 15th sets of a strength-training workout. They performed repeated sets of 10 repetitions, with three minutes of rest between each set. When fueled by the carbohydrate drink (1 gram per kilogram of body weight), they could do more total repetitions (149 versus 129) and more total sets (17.1 versus 14.4) than when they drank the placebo. All this goes to show that carbohydrate gives you an energy edge when consumed before and during a workout. The harder you can work out, the more you can stimulate your muscles to grow.

If you sip a carbohydrate drink over the course of a long workout, be aware that you can take in too many calories. When counseling clients, I recommend that they alternate between drinking a carbohydrate beverage and drinking water during training, especially if their workouts last more than an hour. That way, they don’t consume too many calories from the carbohydrate drink.

The key is to figure out how many grams of carbohydrate you need daily. If you supplement with a sport drink, be sure to count the carbohydrate in the drink as well. Consider your goals—mass building or fat burning—and listen to your body for signs of fatigue. Adjust your carbohydrate intake accordingly, depending on your goals and energy level.

During strength training, glycogen is pulled from storage to replace ATP, the enery compound inside cells that powers muscular contractions. The ATP is broken down in the cells through a series of chemical reactions. The energy released from this breakdown enables the muscle cells to do their work. As you train, the glycogen in your muscles progressively decreases. You can deplete as much as 26 percent of your muscle glycogen during high-intensity strength training.

Some people might argue that a 26 percent decrease isn’t enough to affect strength-training performance. After all, endurance athletes lose as much as 40 percent or more of their glycogen stores during a competitive event. What’s the big deal? Well, research has shown that glycogen depletion is localized to the muscles you work. Let’s say you train your legs today. During your workout, glycogen depletion occurs mostly in your leg muscles, but not much in your arms, chest, or elsewhere in your body. If scientists measured your glycogen levels after exercise, they might find a 26 percent depletion overall. But your leg muscles could be totally emptied. Hard training depletes glycogen from the individual muscles worked.

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