Before I say anything on this subject I’d just like to put a disclaimer up that I am by no means a nutrition expert and I cannot advise anyone on their diet. I am simply sharing with you what works for ME. In sharing this, I hope you can take some pointers on how to experiment with your own carb intake to make it work for you. There are simple principles to follow but only you can know how you feel within the confines of your own specific routine and lifestyle. You have to listen to your body. Your overall goal also has a massive bearing on how you use carbs to your advantage – be it losing fat, building muscle or maintaining. My personal goal is to lose body fat whilst building lean muscle mass.
This post idea came about because whenever I post my meal prep on a Sunday, I get a lot of comments and messages about carbs. More specifically, the fact that I eat them before a workout. I noticed that my body fat percentage began to plateau after rigidly sticking to the eating plan I used on the 90 Day SSS Plan. At first I couldn’t understand why it was happening because it had always worked up until that point. But then I was missing out a very important factor. My training had changed. I was training harder and for longer than before. I was also working out 5 times a week instead of 4 days. Sticking rigidly to any eating or training plan for an extended amount of time is bound to end up in a plateau because your body simply adapts and gets used to what you are doing. You have to change things up and keep it guessing.
Now I’m sure you’re all aware that my serious foray into fitness was kick started by going on The Body Coach 90 Day SSS Plan last year. Cycle 1 and Cycle 3 are very much based around only eating carbs post workout. I progressed well during the plan using this guideline. However, once I finished the plan and was going it alone, I found that constantly following that golden rule started to impede my progress rather than aid it. The more intensive my training became, I found myself getting fatigued more quickly and a lot more hungry. A first I felt guilty for being so hungry all the time and then I realised I should listen to my body and give it what it needs. It makes sense that the more intensive the training, the more carbs will be required to fuel yourself.
A lot of people seem to be very scared of carbs and fear they will make them gain fat. However, it’s all about when you eat them and making sure you’re getting them from a quality source i.e. wherever possible choosing complex carbs. I’ve been asked if I carb cycle but for me that just becomes too complicated and I hate having to think too much about what I’m eating. I am a perfectionist by nature and that type of thing definitely encourages an obsessive element that I definitely do want to encourage in myself. It works great for some people but for me? No. Different strokes for different folks and all that. This is all about finding a healthy, balanced lifestyle that works for you, that makes you feel happy and strong and nourished. You’ve got to play around with different elements to get the right fit and balance to keep you happy both mentally and physically. I don’t se much point in coming up with something too restrictive because it simply won’t be sustainable.
I decided to start experimenting with carbs to see how it affected my body. After all, everyone is different and depending on your metabolism, activity levels and exercise intensity, you’re bound to react slightly differently than the next person. Some people function quite well on a low carb diet but me? Not a chance! I went from having a low carb breakfast and lunch and a higher carb dinner post workout to having a little more carbs in my lunch before working out. This little tweak to my diet has made a whole lot of difference. In my personal case, this is how my day is generally structured:
7am: Fasted HIIT (20 mins high intensity)
7:30am: Breakfast (generally something like protein pancakes, porridge or sweet potato hash browns and eggs)
10am: Brisk walk with the dogs (approx 2-3 miles)
11am: Snack (usually a protein ball, fruit, nuts or greek yoghurt)
1pm: Lunch (I always make sure I get a good amount of protein, veg and about 30-40g of carbs and this gives a good couple of hours for the carbs to digest and go to work to fuel my training)
3:30pm: Weight training session (I weight train 5 times a week for about an hour per session)
4:30pm: Protein shake post workout
5:30pm: Dinner (I cook this meal from scratch and ensure I get a good protein source, veg and about 100-125g of complex carbs)
6:30pm: Brisk walk with the dogs (approx 4 miles)
7:30pm: two squares of dark choc (this stops me from craving a chocolate binge!)
I’m not showing you this as something to follow to the letter, but simply to demonstrate why I eat the way I do and the logic behind it. I eat a small amount of carbs a couple of hours before training to make sure my blood sugar levels are up and glycogen are full prior to starting on the weights. Since lifting heavier I started to find that I didn’t have the energy to really push myself. But since adding in the small amount of complex carbs into my lunch, I’ve found this powers me through and has allowed me to progress much more. I’ve continued to become leaner and have more muscle definition eating this way. I also like to have a high protein snack between lunch and my weight training because it’s supposed to help with muscle repair, increases resting energy expenditure for up to 48 hours and helps maintain lean muscle mass during high intensity workouts. I generally sip on BCAA while I’m actually weight training.
So what does a rest day look like for me? Well Wednesdays and Sundays are my rest days and thats when I tend to keep the carbs pretty low. So ill have something like an omelette for breakfast, a protein snack, some chicken and veg for lunch, another high protein snack or fruit, then a dinner with about 80g of complex carbs. I always try to plan a cheat meal on a training day just so my body is already fired up to burn more calories at rest. Even on rest days I will still take the dogs for two brisk walks and if I feel like I have the energy I’ll do some low intensity cardio on the rowing machine.
Like I said previously, it does take a little time and experimentation to find the right balance for your body and a lot of it is about using intuition. You know your body better than anyone does. Everyone will have different opinions on various different aspects of fitness and nutrition but as long as what you’re doing is balanced, healthy and encouraging progress then you know you’re on the right track.