Nutrient Timing: Carbs for Gains

Eating is more than just putting calories in and getting energy out. Eating, digesting, absorbing, anabolism, and catabolism are a chemical dance that involve thousands of chemical reactions. That being said, when we are talking about modifying BODY COMPOSITION, what we eat, and when we eat it are like choreographed dancing: refined, calculated, and impressive.

It's not all that complicated. There are not certain times of the day where Twinkies magically morph into Nicki Minaj-caliber gluteus maximus muscles, or only carrots can be absorbed, BUT there are optimal times to eat certain macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein) in order to achieve specific body composition goals.

Let's put it this way: we are just a skin-covered sack of chemical reactions. Play it right and you can optimize those chemical reactions to work fully in your favor.

Before I hop into a few details I feel I have to remind you that, while this is not crazy-complicated, it takes a lot of experimenting (or working with a professional who can orchestrate the process) to find your own balance. You are your own, unique chemical equation. You probably won't get all of the modifications right the first time, so think of this as an experiment, and tweak your equation until the yield is what you desire.


1. If you're looking to decrease body fat, but want to maintain muscle, high protein during caloric restriction is going to be your best friend.

Why? Because, eating protein up-regulates chemical reactions that keep us feeling full, improve adrenal health, regulate blood glucose, and are the direct building blocks of muscle. Moreover, protein builds muscles. Amino acids, are the building blocks of muscle. Amino acids to build muscles CAN'T be made from carbs or fat. You must eat protein to get amino acids that will build and/or maintain your muscles.

[SERIOUS Note: Don't just start cutting calories WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL so that you don't risk losing muscle and putting your metabolism in a big old slump.]

2. If your goal is to build muscle, you're not only going to have to focus on eating enough protein to induce anabolism ("building up"), but you're also going to have to eat carbohydrates.

You can do this one of two ways. You can be lackadaisical and just include carbs and protein in your diet, OR you can be ultra efficient and time your carb consumption in order to get the best results from your training sessions.

Now, if you're like me you want to see your hard work come to fruition; this means you need to work smart, AND work hard. There is almost nothing worse working hard and missing out on the possible results. It is beyond frustrating. So, here's what's up.

To build muscle while maintaining low body fat, you're going to want to focus on 2 things. One, is NOT overdoing the cardio and really focusing on weight lifting. You don't have to be Arnold in the gym! A disciplined weight lifting circuit for 20 to 30 minutes is truly all you need. Two, follow the weight-lifting circuit with a meal that contains protein and carbohydrates.

Why? When we lift (or train) we use our muscles. In using our muscles, we subject them to stress. The stress "breaks them down". At this point, the broken down muscles are fiending for some "sugar" ( not skittles, not table sugar, they want the good sh*t - they want the starchy carbs that come with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber) aka carbs. The carbs help the muscles to build themselves back up. Carbs are like fertilizer for recently broken-down muscle tissue.

In fact, the muscles become very good at quickly pulling sugar (and protein) from the blood stream into the muscle tissue in order to "re-feed" themselves. Then, because they were properly re-fed, they are able to repair and re-build very effectively and efficiently. What does that mean for you? That means bigger biceps, a curvaous gluteus maximus, strong quads, shapely latiumss dorsi (for all my climbers reading this), and so on and so forth.

In closing, I ask you to do two things.

First off, do not think that muscle growth happens overnight. It does happen faster than fat loss, but it is not immediate as far as being able to see it. However, if you do it right, you should notice yourself reaping the rewards within 3 to 4 weeks. For my clients who are focusing on building muscle, we tend to start to see specific changes around week 3. Persistence is KEY! Secondly, ALL CARBS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. Yes, there is always going to be space for that cookie, bowl of cereal, or whatever your sugar of choice is. But, those nutrient-less carb choices should be the minority of what you're choosing to fill your carb consumption with.

Instead, choose nutrient-dense foods such as beans, winter squash, sweet potatoes, yams, jerusalem artichokes, whole-food-based, grain-free flours (like Birch Benders Paleo Pancakes) such as cassava flour, and gluten free pseudo grains like buckwheat and quinoa. These carb sources provide you with the muscle fertilizer + the cofactors (vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals) that allow chemical reactions to occur.

That's all for today. Eat your carbs after lifting and watch the gains! Any questions? Requests for specific topics? Send them this way.


Alyssa Neill, RDN

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