Pre-Workout Carbs Aren’t for Everyone but Are They for YOU?
Written by Michele Vieux
With so many pre-workout products out there all containing different formulas of carbohydrates and proteins, it can be confusing to many athletes as to what’s best to help them reach their goals. You may have heard that you should “carb up” before events and have probably even seen some elite athletes – and others – using carb-filled, pre-workout supplements along with sipping unknown concoctions during their workout routines and events. Some folks do need these products and should make sure to get in a dose of carbs before their workouts; but a lot of the hype surrounded by these – and therefore usage of these types of products – is probably clever marketing and/or a misunderstanding on the part of the consumer.
So should YOU consume carbs before a workout? Well, that all depends on your goals. If your goal is to conserve energy stores to either maintain your current weight or gain body mass, to conserve energy stores because you’re performing a long-duration event like an ultra marathon or competing all weekend in an event like the CrossFit Games and don’t want to crap out in the middle of your race, then yes, eat (or drink) those carbs before and even during your workout or event. This will help you make it through feeling fresh and full of energy (relatively speaking).
But if your goal is fat loss, then you should stick to protein and fats before your exercise routine. Your body is picky – and preferential – when choosing what to burn for energy and carbs are the easy go-to source for it to use for energy. If carbs are available, they will be burned first and fat will not because it’s being saved for a time that is more desperate. However, when carbs are not available and fat and/or protein is provided, higher levels of glucagon, combined with lower levels of blood carbohydrate, can lead to a relatively higher rate of fat burning instead . This is ideal for those with weight loss goals because it means that your body can get right to the source of energy you’re trying to lose.
Need some ideas for pre-workout protein and fat sources? If you workout in the morning, you might not feel all that hungry, but it is important you get something inside you for your body to use as energy and to kickstart your metabolism. Don’t skip getting something inside your belly (see Calvin’s Post: Training on an Empty Stomach). Try something like a hard boiled egg or a couple bites of protein from last night’s dinner and a few nuts, which are easy to grab and not too difficult to choke down, even at 6am. If you’re not digging the nuts and drink coffee or tea in the morning before you workout, make it Bulletproof or add some coconut milk. Can’t stomach the thought of eating meat or eggs that early? Try sipping some bone broth, which is full of many nutrients including some protein and fats. In a pinch, take a few capsules of BCAAs, which are the building blocks of protein. If you workout in the afternoon or evening, as long as you’ve eaten a balanced meal that day within a couple hours of your workout, you should be good to go!
Berardi; Andrews; The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition; p. 114-115