Carbohydrate : The Best Ergogenic Aid!?


are regarded by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2010) as one of the best ergogenic aids (performance enhancers) available to man. What makes carbohydrate so useful is that it just so happens to be the staple of our diet i.e. we cannot live without it! Carbohydrate comes in various forms, but we should aim to obtain the bulk of it in the form of complex carbohydrates such as starchy foods including potato, rice, pasta, cereals, oats and bread. Other forms of carbohydrate, which should be eaten in smaller quantities, include simple sugars such as Glucose, Fructose (monosaccharides) and Sucrose, Maltose and Lactose (disaccharides). We generally obtain these from refined/processed carbs such as table sugar, sweets, syrups and some sugar based beverages, fruit and dairy produce (Zieve et al. 2010).

Various types of Carbohydrate

The distinguishing features of complex and simple carbs are their chemical structure, making complex carbs more difficult for the body to breakdown, meaning the energy is released (in the form of glucose) at a much slower rate compared to simple carbs. The differing rates of breakdown between complex and simple carbs mean they are best consumed at specific times of the day. The British Nutrition Foundation (2012) suggests consuming starch (complex) carbs at three regular intervals over the day i.e. breakfast, lunch and dinner. The slower rate of release means the glucose is gradually fed into the blood stream delivering a slow, sustainable energy source.

This also serves to maintain blood sugar levels and insulin release, placing the body into a more anabolic (growth) state which aids energy delivery and muscle development. There are times when our blood sugar levels deplete resulting in decreased energy levels, during this time it may be useful to consume a simple carb to provide a rapid delivery of glucose/energy. A repercussion of the rapid energy release that accompanies the consumption of simple carbs is a sudden insulin spike resulting in an abrupt drop in sugar levels, causing a yo-yo effect. Therefore, we recommend consuming slow release complex carbs at regular intervals over the day to maintain a ‘slow drip’ of sugar/energy limiting the hormonal shunts which inhibit energy and muscle development.

The ideal time to consume a simple/quick release carb is immediately after a training session when blood sugar/energy levels are at their lowest. The sudden surge of sugar will invoke an anabolic insulin surge which places the body into muscle growth mode. The insulin acts like a glucose and protein specific ‘key’ to the muscles and organs, allowing glucose and protein to be readily absorbed. This will increase glycogen stores (glucose stores) and prevent muscle from being used as an energy source, thus increasing protein synthesis (muscle growth).

What about Low Carbohydrate Diets?

So what if you choose to limit your carbs in order to improve definition and tone? This is a tactic commonly used by bodybuilders or fitness models to reduce carb associated fluid retention under the surface of the skin. Although the research does support the role that carbs have on fluid retention, the consequences this can have on your ability to train can be significant, and may result in some muscle loss.

How Supplements can help you

There are ways you can optimise the carb : protein ratio (balance) of your diet. One of the easiest and most efficient ways is to consume a protein and carb supplement. The tailored, expertly mediated composition of protein and carbs mean the person will receive the optimal ratio of complex and simple carbs, as well as an adequate delivery of muscle preserving protein. Our bodies store glucose in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, humans typically store 300-400g of glycogen, but this level can increase the physically fitter you are. This level of glycogen will usually sustain exercise (moderate intensity) for around 90-180 minutes, or as little as 30 minutes during high intensity exercise. If glycogen stores become depleted, the body reverts to using less effective energy sources such as protein and fat, at the expense of muscle and overall training capacity (Llewellyn, 2009).

How to Maximise Glycogen Stores and Exercise Productivity

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition (2010) and Llewellyn (2009), if glycogen stores are depleted after a hard day’s work or gym session, supplementation with a simple and complex carb combination beverage is integral to maximising training potential. Professional and recreational athletes often consume a simple carb drink such as High 5 Energy Source or PowerBar Isoactive sachets. The optimal time to consume such a supplement is 30-60mins prior to commencing exercise, however glycogen stores during training are likely to deplete quite rapidly especially with high intensity exercise or resistance work. It is recommended that you consume 7.5-15g of simple carbs every 15mins during your training session to maintain energy levels and reduce catabolism (muscle breakdown). Combine the abovementioned carb intake with approx 6-15g protein per hour for more efficient gains in muscle synthesis and fat burning.

Take Carbs and Protein within 30 minutes after Exercise

The potential for glycogen and muscle replenishment is at its highest within 30 mins after exercise and remains elevated for up to 2 hours. To maximise glycogen deposits and muscle synthesis (via protein sparing and elevated insulin levels), we strongly recommend a simple carb supplement combined with a whey protein shake within this 30 minute anabolic window! To get the balance between protein and carbs right every time, we strongly suggest XL Nutrition Protein & Carbs for its high quality protein, readily absorbed carbs (both simple and complex), and expertly distributed protein and carb composition.

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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