Yes it is true; carbohydrates have the most efficient metabolic pathway for high intensity training. Having said that, carbohydrates themselves are not what provide the body with instant energy per se. It is glycogen that does that.
Glycogen is just a fancy name for stored sugar. When we eat carbohydrates, the body breaks them down into glucose (blood sugar) and stores them away in a reservoir of energy known as glycogen. Whenever energy is required, the body draws out glycogen to be used as fuel.
Many people have this belief that consuming a carbohydrate-enriched meal one or two hours prior to a workout, will help fuel that forthcoming event. This is not so, as it takes much longer than two hours for any pre-ingested carbohydrates to be converted as glycogen and used as a fuel source.
If anything, the energy being utilised is most probably coming from previously stored glycogen. The notion of eating a bowl of pasta prior to a football game, or having that banana right before a weight-training session, is simply antiquated. It takes much longer for the process to take place.
When carbohydrates are consumed however, they raise a neurotransmitter in the brain known as serotonin. This chemical is our happy hormone, responsible for regulating our mood and sleep patterns. When serotonin levels are elevated, we tend to feel more relaxed, happy and ready to hit the hay.
Think about how you feel after eating a bowl of pasta. Two hours later, you are put into a carbohydrate coma and feel like taking a nap. Now, should that really be your pre-workout meal?
Think about what you reach out for when you are feeling stressed – a big juicy steak or a piece of chocolate? Something sugary of course, as carbohydrates have a way of calming down the central nervous system. This is not something we want to be consuming prior to a weight-training workout.
The pre-workout meal you consume will not be utilised as muscular fuel for your workout. If you want to do that, you will need to make sure glycogen stores are topped up prior to that workout, with an earlier meal.
The meal you do consume right before your workout will have an impact on your brain. You therefore need to eat a meal that makes your brain alert, in order to fire the central nervous system and prepare it for optimal performance.
A pre-workout meal should consist of protein and fat. Not only is such a meal one of the best sugar-balancing agents available, it will fire the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine, which provide the brain with drive and alertness. That is how we want to prime ourselves when going to war with the iron.
An example of a protein and fat meal would be a serving of meat and nuts, along with some black coffee and coconut butter. Now you’re just about ready to bend some bars.
Remember, the pre-workout meal is that which keeps you awake, not that which provides you with instant energy. Make sure you keep your brain alert by consuming the right foods that are conducive for optimal performance.