Pre-workout carbohydrates are one of the most effective ways to ensure that any workout you have is primed for a big lift or long training session.
How many of you are used to going to a workout in the morning with little to no energy? You stuff yourself full of your favorite pre-workout mix and decide that its time to start training.
Pre-workout carbohydrates could be your saviour – but it is important to understand that not all carbs are made the same. Yes, they will provide you with more glycogen to fuel your muscle for training, but this does not give you the excuse to start loading up on white grains before training.
Let’s break down how pre-workout carbohydrates can help to improve your performance in the gym, without making you put on weight.
What Are Carbohydrates?
I always like to start off these recommendation articles with a little background knowledge. I’d recommend reading my previous article – Carbohydrates 101 as it will provide you with a detailed overview of what carbs are and how they work in your training.
On a fundamental level, carbohydrates are the lifeblood of performance and energy. Carbs metabolize into glycogen – through glucose or fructose.
Eating foods like grains, legumes, tubers and fruit will provide your body with a good amount of digestible carbohydrates to power brain function, muscular contractions and even support a healthy metabolism.
The most important and relevant point here is that carbohydrates support muscle contractions.
All muscles contract by using ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and glycogen.
For information on energy systems, check out this video.
Why Consume Pre-Workout Carbohydrates?
Most people get so excited over the new amino acid drinks that they forget about carbs as a primary fuel source during exercise.
We consume carbohydrates to allow for larger storage of glycogen in the muscle.
The larger the storage of glycogen in the muscle and liver, the faster your body can undergo glycogen resynthesis – a process that occurs to allow muscles to recover during sets.
In other words, a diet higher in carbohydrates can allow you to recover faster during sets. In fact, research has even shown that a diet high in carbohydrates can allow athletes to generate more power during a workout.
Carbs Provide Glycogen for Glycogen Resynthesis
Most carbohydrates sources from whole grains will contain a good amount of complex carbohydrates which will help to allow for a higher concentration of muscle glycogen and a faster resynthesis of glycogen during a training session.
This means you can put out more power during a workout without having to worry about feeling exhausted half-way through your set (this is why people carb-load).
Carbohydrates Contain Vital Nutrients Like Potassium and Fibre
This is a big concept that a lot of people forget about. Carbs are unique in the sense that they also provide a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
Especially if you are keen on eating various whole foods like legumes, rye, buckwheat and other whole grains you will consume a great source of vitamins and minerals.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for strength, metabolism and recovery.
Consuming carbohydrates sourced from bananas will provide you with a good source of potassium and fibre.
Carbs Are Readily Used as Fuel for Exercise
Simply put, carbs are fuel for exercise. They are stored in the muscle and allow you to train at higher intensities for longer.
Glycogen is the primary fuel source for most exercise. Running, lifting, CrossFit – a diet high in carbs (above 60% of total calories) will act as the primary fuel source for exercise.
Why consume pre-workout carbohydrates? They allow your body to have adequate fuel for training. Pre-workout carbohydrates allow you to train harder – for longer.
5 Best Pre-Workout Carbohydrate Sources
Just because we have discussed the benefits of eating a diet with carbohydrates does not mean you should go out and stuff your face with donuts.
Here is a list of the 5 best carbs to consume prior to a workout – and how much is necessary.
Perhaps the most widely eaten fruit in the world. Apples are filled with vitamins and a high dose of fibre. Apples also contain faster-digesting carbs that will metabolize quickly for exercise.
Eating one apple 20-30 min before a workout will not make you feel bloated and will provide you with a rapid source of digestible energy.
Didn’t see this one coming eh? Watermelon is packed with good carbohydrates and is a great source of hydration.
Watermelon contain a good dosage of L-Citrulline – an amino acid that has been shown to lower muscle fatigue.
Consuming 1-2 cups of watermelon about 45min before a workout will help to hydrate you and prepare you for strenuous exercise.
The king of all carbohydrates. Oatmeal contains plenty of protein, complex carbohydrates and many vitamins and minerals.
With that said, consuming a ½ cup of oatmeal about 2 hours prior to a workout can help to provide your body with essential minerals, decent protein content and a good amount of glycogen for training.
4. Sweet Potato or Yams
I am a big fan of starch-rich tubers. Not only do they contain a good amount of easy-to-digest carbohydrates, but they also contain plenty of vitamins and minerals.
Yams, for example, contain around 25% of your intake of potassium in just 100 calories.
Eating these tubers around 1-2 hours prior to a workout will be one of the best ways to see massive strength improvements and a boost in energy levels.
5. Green Beans
Don’t sleep on legumes. Beans are not only a great source of protein, but they also contain a high amount of readily-digestible carbohydrates to fuel your workout.
Consuming green beans or other legumes about 1-2 hours before a training session will help to provide glycogen. Legumes also provide a spectrum of amino acids to help with blood amino acid balance and protein requirements.
Bottom Line: Pre-Workout Carbohydrates
In a world where everyone is so focused on losing weight – carbs can get a pretty bad rep. We need to better understand how food works in our body, especially when training is factored into the equation.
For more information on carbohydrates and if you should be consuming more, be sure to check out our popular article – Carbohydrates 101.