Many people think that because I subscribe to a primal diet that I don’t eat any carbohydrates. I eat plenty of carbohydrates I just don’t eat processed carbohydrates or grains. It seems that a lot of folks are forgetting that carbohydrates come from many other sources then just bread and pasta. Vegetables, fruits, and tubers are all very high in carbs. In addition to the source of carbs, I also think the timing of when I eat carbohydrates is also very critical. First let’s look at some of my carbohydrates of choice:
- Sweet potatoes or yams – These are my favorite! I eat these whenever I really need to recover with carbohydrates. They are easy to cook, my favorite method is to wrap them in foil and throw them in the oven at 400-degrees for about an hour (or until soft). I then peel (potato skins have many anti-nutrients this will be another blog), smash them up and add a little butter, delicious! Also as an added bonus, not only do sweet potatoes taste better than regular potatoes, sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes.That means they don’t spike your blood sugar as much.
- Non-sweet potatoes – These are a second choice if I don’t have any sweet potatoes. Again these are mainly for recovery purposes only (will talk about this later in the post). But potatoes are fun and versatile.
- Vegetables – I like organic spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, brussel sprouts, green chile (a New Mexico thing), and mushrooms (I know they are not a vegetable but I don’t fell like giving them their own category). I am sure I am forgetting a few but I try and eat vegetables for just about every meal as these don’t really produce an insulin response.
- Fruit – Just about all I eat is organic berries. Fruit is very high in sugar and should be consumed sparingly. Fruit is definitely better that sports drinks, gels, or even dessert if you are craving something sweet. I like berries because they give you the most “bang for you buck” as far a sugar to vitamins ratio (as well as antioxidants).
- Rice – I rarely eat rice but I eat it as part of my “cheat meal” (the 20%, of the 80/20 principle). While rice isn’t really bad for you it is high on the glycemic index which means it spikes your blood sugar. Rice has been called nutritionally neutral not really good for you but not really bad either. I try to only eat rice as part of recovery. It is also nice to have rice with sushi and Indian food!
- Beer – Is their a more fun way to restore carbs? 🙂
Let’s briefly look at carbohydrates role in energy and how I use them to refuel. When you eat carbohydrates they get converted to either glucose (instant energy) or glycogen (stored energy) which is stored in the liver and muscles. Our bodies use fat energy for most daily tasks but glycogen is mainly used for brain functions and anaerobic activities such as all out sprints or really hard workouts. Glycogen is also use as a reserve fuel in-case you run out of fat energy.
Really hard anaerobic workouts can deplete your glycogen levels. So after a really hard workout it is critical to restore your glycogen levels. If your glycogen stores are constantly depleted that is when muscle damage can occur, basically your body begins to eat your muscles for energy and we don’t what that because we do care about body composition (yeah you can call it vain)! Also by consistently restoring glycogen level this allows your muscle to prepare/repair for the next workout.
Timing of carbohydrates: Because I am teaching my body to burn fat for it primary source of energy I always try to conduct my first workout of the day in a fasted state (more info in the future on this topic). If for some reason I can’t workout in a fasted state I will not eat any high glycemic carbohydrates (such as potatoes, rice, etc) before my first workout. After this first workout I replenish my body with carbohydrates. (A complete side note here on working out in a fasted state- it’s not something you can just start doing- it takes training- light headiness and fatigue may occur when you are starting out– read the linked blog and post comments if you are still fighting these issues.)
Recovery: Again this falls under timing, right after a hard workout, anywhere up to two hours (I have even heard up to four but I would do two to be on the safe side) your body is in its “recovery window”. What this means is that during this time your body is extremely efficient at using carbohydrates to restore your glycogen levels. This means that all the carbohydrates you eat will be used for glycogen storage (not converted to fat, Yeah!). After this “window” closes your body becomes extremely inefficient (I have heard as low as a 5% success rate) at restoring your glycogen levels. This means you must eat much more carbohydrates in order to refill your glycogen stores.
Carbohydrates are necessary for muscle recovery just make sure your carbohydrate sources are from real food. Let me here your favorite carbohydrate foods!