How To Use Carbohydrates For Fat Loss And Muscle Growth by David Barr

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We can improve our performance and body composition simply by changing the way in which we use carbs in our workout nutrition. It's just a matter of looking at the situation and figuring out exactly how to do it.

Introduction

Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap lately but this may not be completely without justification. Carbs not only contribute calorically, but they're also great at stimulating the hormone insulin -which is appropriately named the "storage hormone".

This is why low-carb diets are often so effective -they lead to a reduction in this storage hormone, which not only increases fat use for energy, it also prevents any stubborn fat from being 'spared' by insulin.

The only exception to recent anti-carb thinking seems to be in the time surrounding our workout. Considering their impact on both performance and body composition during this workout period, let's take a look at how to optimize training-time carbohydrate intake. Ideally we'd want to get by on minimal carbs but there are still a couple of ideas that are still kicking around in an attempt to continue overconsumption of this nutrient.

The most common practice for using carbs in workout nutrition is to use them following training. There are two main lines of thinking to support this:

1) Glycogen Restoration

2) Enhancing Muscle Protein Synthesis (recovery)

Let's take a quick look at each and see if they hold up to our current outlook.


Maximal Glycogen

You may know that our muscle uses stored glycogen for energy during exercise, and it is thought that overall storage may be limiting to performance -that is to say that if we have low glycogen levels then we won't be able to train as hard or that we may fatigue prematurely.

Although the idea of a post-workout window is now repudiated, the original justification for post-workout carbohydrate intake pertained the quick replenishment of the glycogen levels (which have been lowered or used up during training).

The big flaw with this proposition is that, much like our original post-workout window information, this idea is based on endurance training. Resistance training doesn't affect muscle glycogen levels to an appreciable degree. In other words, we don't need to over consume carbs because there's not really anything to replenish!


Muscle Protein Synthesis

Another common justification for excessive carb consumption after training is based on research showing that insulin can enhance muscle growth and recovery (a.k.a. muscle protein synthesis). If you'll recall that carbs stimulate insulin, then it only seems natural that large amounts of carbs are warranted for optimal recovery.

The problem with this idea is that people often publicize the punchline of a study without actually looking at the details. In this case the research used fasted subjects, which essentially means that they were in starvation-mode. In this situation the body will burn off ingested protein rather than using it. But when carbs were used in this group, the protein wasn't burned off, it was actually used to increase muscle growth and recovery.


So what's the problem?

When the study was repeated with subjects who weren't fasted, there was no effect of carbohydrates. It seems as though their effect is only felt when people are in starvation mode-which should happen only very rarely, if ever. So once again, we're left without justification for overusing carbohydrates after training.


More Good News

So it looks as though we can keep post-workout carbs to a minimum after training, which is great news! This should not only help us feel better but also assist with health and body composition.

But there's more good news. Rather than simply removing carbs from our workout nutrition, I'm going to show you how to actually use them to optimize our performance and body composition.


Recapping Reason

First let's quickly recap and throw in a bit of novel information. Large quantities of carbs have been advocated for the following archaic reasons:


1) Muscle Glycogen Storage

Glycogen levels are relatively unscathed by resistance training compared to endurance exercise. It is the latter on which most of the post-workout carb intake research has been performed, which makes it largely inaccurate to extrapolate to strength work. [of course there's all kinds of different types, intensities, volumes etc. of strength work so just use your head about glycogen requirements.]

In fact even in endurance athletes, using carbs after training only speeds the rate at which glycogen is restored. This is unnecessary for anyone other than a competitive athlete, as sub maximal glycogen facilitates insulin sensitivity and may facilitate fat loss. In other words: in many situations it's a good idea to have slightly reduced muscle glycogen outside of training.


2) Muscle Growth and Recovery

This idea is based on research from my old lab, but unfortunately used fasted subjects. In this study the carbohydrates protected the protein such that it was used for growth and recovery rather than simply being burned off (which is what happens when fast protein is consumed in a fasted state). It was concluded by many that the resulting insulin from the carbs caused an elevated anabolic effect. After all insulin is "the storage hormone".

Unfortunately insulin isn't directly anabolic and does little for post-workout growth and recovery when we're in a fed state (which is most of the time). This has been demonstrated in subsequent, more applicable research.


The Good News

Having seen why post-workout carbs aren't required in excess, there is one time when insulin stimulation is of great importance: pre-workout. Research shows that pre-workout drinks are twice as effective as post-workout drinks. Now it's important to interpret the data with caution because once again the study was performed in a fasted state.

Having provided the caveat of this study, there is one exciting finding to discuss: the increase in anabolism wasn't due to protein protection or something that can be so easily dismissed once the fed state comes into play. That's because the major impact of the pre-workout feeding was a drastic increase in muscle blood flow!

It may shock you to think that the idea behind all of all those erroneously named "nitric oxide stimulator supplements" (click the link for a full review) actually have a scientific basis, even if the claims are patently fallacious and outright deceptive, but there you have it.

By increasing blood flow to muscle we're increasing nutrient delivery to the tissue, which is a major determinant of muscle growth and recovery. From a performance perspective, this increase in blood flow helps to remove waste products from working muscle. Contrary to common opinion, it is the accumulation of these waste products that is the cause of muscle fatigue, not a lack of energy.

Taking advantage of blood flow as a powerful performance enhancer is discussed in detail in The Anabolic Index manuals.


FAQ. David if I'm eating before training, won't that hinder my fat loss?

A. It's important to remember that although we experience a transient increase in caloric expenditure during exercise, the vast majority of fat loss comes after the training. This is particularly true of High Intensity Interval Training is used as a means of cardio. So don't worry about consuming carbs as part of a pre-workout drink - it's going to help you in the long run!

Until next time, raise your expectations. Raise The Barr!


About The Author

David Barr is widely recognized as an industry innovator, most recently for his work on developing "The Anabolic Index". As a strength coach and scientist, he brings a unique perspective to the areas of diet, supplementation, and training.

His research experience includes work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, as well as studying the effect of protein on muscle growth. He holds certifications with the NSCA as well as USA Track and Field.

 


Click here to learn more
about David's books:

"The Anabolic Index - Nutrition
and Supplement Guide" and "Food
and Supplement Scoring Guide"


Submitted by DMorgan on Fri, 01/23/2009 - 11:18am.

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