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The Best Time for Carbohydrates

Updated: Mar 21

In this blog, we're going to identify when is the best time to have carbohydrates for different training and nutrition scenarios.


Carbohydrate Availability


Carbohydrate Availability is simply the amount of carbohydrates you have available to fuel exercise. Generally speaking, as carbohydrate availability decreases, like during a rapid weight cut, the importance of carbohydrate timing increases. When carbohydrate availability is high, meaning when the amount of carbohydrates in the diet meets/exceeds the needs of training then the importance of carbohydrate timing doesn't matter, except in unique scenarios which we'll explore next.

Fig 1. As carbohydrate availability decreases, the importance of carbohydrate timing increases


Carbohydrate Timing Scenarios


Low Energy/Carbohydrate Availability


When you're eating less energy (calories) to lose weight or reducing carbohydrate intake for whatever reason, it becomes important to time and prioritise carbohydrates around training. for example, if you're carbohydrate intake is reduced to 150 grams/day and you're training in the evening, your fuelling strategy might look like one of the following:

  • 50 grams of carbohydrates at breakfast, 50 grams at lunch and 50 grams during training (sports drink)

  • 50 grams for breakfast and 100 grams for lunch

  • 50 grams for breakfast, 50 grams for lunch and 50 grams worth of snacks like fruit

If you're severely restricting carbohydrates relative to your needs for whatever reason, you would want to have your carbohydrates within 1-3 hours before training and/or during training.


Twice a Day Training


Carbohydrate timing can be especially crucial for people training twice a day. It all depends on how much time you have to recover between sessions, the intensity and duration of your sessions and your carbohydrate availability. If you have less than 8 hours to recover between sessions you might need to fuel up within the hour after training. This is because during the first 40-60 minutes after a hard workout, your depleted muscles ramp up certain processes that make carb/glycogen repletion really quick. After 60 minutes these processes diminish and repletion rates slow down. Check out the image below for a graphical representation.



If both sessions are going to be intense and long, get those carbs in quick and make sure they come from a source of carbohydrates with a high glycemic index:

Source: https://www.mysportscience.com/post/glycemic-index-useful-or-useless


Training First Thing in the Morning


This might come as a surprise but some people don't actually need to have carbohydrates if they're training in the morning, especially if your carbohydrate availability is high. In my experience, I've come across many who prefer to training on an empty stomach. Research has shown (PMID: 32174286) that having breakfast in the morning has more to do with feelings of fullness than actually refuelling.


Now if you're on a calorie/carbohydrate restricted diet then yes it'd be wise to time your carbs before training, during training or before bed if you prefer to train on an empty stomach, otherwise eating breakfast/carbs before training is a personal preference thing.


Now there are some exceptions to this. If you're doing or plan to do intense and long training sessions (>30-60 minutes) in the morning then I recommend some carbohydrates to top up liver glycogen stores which, unlike muscle glycogen, can be substantially depleted overnight. At the very least have a sugary drink like Gatorade. Aim for foods that can replenish glycogen stores quickly such as cereal, honey or fruit.


Hope this was a quick and simple read and that you got something out of it. For tailored recommendations and advice on carbohydrate intake and timing strategies, send me an email at mailbox@bodyengineering.info or DM me on instagram @walidhouli

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