On Monday we talked about the role of carbohydrates for fat loss. Today, we are moving forward with the role of carbohydrates for athletic performance. This post is dedicated to those of use who transformed out health from flab to fab, but ran into the “I can’t maintain my intense workouts” wall. This post is for those of us who train hard and train hard often. If you are training for an RKC cert, a 4-5 time a week crossfitter, or are increasing your workout intensity while struggling to find the energy to deal with the routines, this post is for you!
Grab a fork and get ready to eat more carbs to fuel your workouts. Today, we’re talking performance based nutrition. Here’s the 411.
I have been following a lot of posts by Robb Wolf lately as the man not only knows the ins and outs of paleo nutrition, but he also has competed and coached weightlifting competitors for serious power outputs. Of particular interest was his post on athletic performance and low carb diets. I highly recommend you spend the time and read his article when you have the time. The take away here has been something I have noticed in my own athletic career, and it’s worth mentioning for all of you out there who have come to me with the “I can’t figure out why my workouts are suffering” complaint.
“But isn’t low carb the best way to ensure body composition?”
Yes and no. I will say the yes, low carbing (keeping carb intake between 50-100 grams) is a great way to ensure steady fat loss, but for those of us in athlete mode, low carb is stupid. I repeat, low carb is STUPID! Remaining in a ketogenic state will only ensure that your glycogen levels are chronically depleted. Starve yourself of glycogen too long and presto, you won’t be lifting like you once could. Hell, you may set yourself up for a depressed and irritated over trained state and begin to experience fun things like blood sugar dips. I’m by no way mocking you all out there who are struggling to perform on the lower carb paleo diet. I’m speaking from personal experience. When you increase the intensity without properly fueling your workouts, you can set your self up for disaster. So…CARB UP! These days, I NEVER drop below 100 grams of carbohydrates per day. In fact, I have had variances as high as 150-200grams without any change in body fat. In fact, I have seen body fat REDUCTION by increasing carb intake for heavy exercises. This brings me to my next point.
“Janelle…WAIT! If I increase my carbs, won’t I gain weight? Are you really telling me to eat MORE?”
No, you will not gain weight. Yes, you need to eat more. It really is that simple. Let’s break this down though and talk about why the weight won’t creep up on you even when you are eating more than you thought possible. First of all, look at yourself in the mirror and repeat the following:
“I am an athlete, and I am awesome!”
Now that you have recognized that you are an awesome athlete, we need to make sure that we keep you performing like the awesome athlete you have confessed to be. I realize that this might sound ridiculous, but I am actually quite serious. Over the years, I have met countless amounts of people who have failed to recognize that they are high performing fitness buffs and thus need high performance nutrition. I went through this myself a few years ago when training for HKC Pittsburgh. Undercutting your nutrition will sabotage your performance. As an athlete, your nutritional intake will be different than our fat loss candidates. If you are a seasoned athlete, I highly recommend having some sort of starch at every meal. I’m a huge fan of sweet potatoes and have made wonderful and hearty breakfasts of scrambled eggs, bacon, avocados and sweet potato has browns. Post workout nutrition will require an intake of 30-60 grams of carbohydrate as well to be sure glycogen is restored and to preserve muscle. Dinner should also have a carb source to prime you for the following days workout. Considering the fact that the after RKC style workout or WOD can burn 1-3,000 calories (if not more) per session, you will need to fuel the workouts accordingly with the ratios of carbs. By the way, since most RKC and WOD like workouts are intense and varied, you have the additional benefit of burning calories long after the exercise is over. This means a) you will not gain weight and b) will be able to eat more without the fear of “fat spill over”. So…MANGIA
“This is amazing! What carb sources would you recommend then for the hardcore paleo athlete then?”
I cannot speak any more highly of the sweet potato. Packed with vitamins, minerals, and the perfect glycemic load, you can ensure you have steady energy pre and post workout and will be well fueled for the next day of training. If you are on serious training that lasts hours a day, you may need additional carb loads to meet the demands of your routine. While some of my paleo pals steer clear of excess fructose in the diet, I feel that athletes are the exception to this rule. Bananas, dates, mangoes and more should be incorporated in the diet if glycogen depleting exercises are regular and intense enough to merit them. I have been known to cycle through larabars like a machine when training hard and again, no fat spill over has ever occurred. General rule of thumb here is to shoot for carbohydrate loads between 100-200 grams per day depending on activity level. For me, I generally get around 120-150 grams of carbs due to my current training cycle, and I feel bomb! Keep in mind, I am a 5’3” female. You will nee dot adjust accordingly depending on age, gender, and overall body weight.
On Friday we will be discussing the role of carbohydrates for mass gain, and what you will need to do to gain mass while minimizing fat deposition. Until then, remember to eat smart, train hard, and enjoy your life!
Janelle Pica, RKC