The carbohydrate dilemma - when, how much and why?

When we exercise our muscles need to burn sugar to work effectively. Our muscles store sugar in the form of muscle glycogen. The concentration of glycogen in the muscle pre exercise will dictate how much energy can be released during a work out. This storage form of sugar is depleted in long and intense work outs. Unfortunately, we cannot transport this sugar from one muscle to another. So when you cycle you can only get sugar from the muscles of the legs or the liver. Therefore, maximizing the muscles glycogen is a key to peak performance.

Our liver also stores sugar as glycogen and can transfer this sugar anywhere, but it cannot store as much as a muscle can for exercise. When an athlete says that he hit the "wall", they are telling you that they ran out of muscle glycogen for an energy source and start to burn lean tissue to produce sugar which is very inefficient.

Carbohydrate loading pre exercise, post exercise and during exercise are all key.

Today we will talk about post workout pre match loading:

Data shows that 2 days prior to an event like a marathon, soccer game, long swim, etc.., if an athlete works out really hard and depletes the muscles sugar stores(glycogen) while withholding sugars from the diet, they can enhance the storage of glycogen post exercise by carb/sugar loading. Therefore, 2 days later during an event they have maximal muscle glycogen stores to compete with.

In other words: 2 days before big events an athlete should have a hard workout and not eat flour or sugar based foods. Eat nuts, seeds, vegetables, protein like soy or meat. Then post workout eat whole grain pasta, brown rice, and other rapidly digesting carbohydrates. The key is to get the meal within the first 2 hours post workout.

Having a healthy style bar like Clif or Hammer immediately after the workout makes good sense to get the process started before a big meal. The data shows that supplements like Recoverite or other post workout drinks are as effective as a home cooked meal. I tend to think that a natural food meal is still preferable to a processed variety.

If you do not get the meal in the first 1-2 hours post exercise, you have lost the ability to fill your muscles up with optimal sugar stores. After 3 hours of soccer games on Sunday nights, I eat a quick bar and then eat a huge meal with pasta or rice and beans. Even at 41, I can still run with the young lads and plan to forever. God willing!

Dr. M