Do you feel stuck in a rut? Like no matter how hard you train, or how much protein you eat that you’re just not getting what you think you deserve from working out? If you feel this way, then there’s the very high likelihood that it’s not your workout that’s the problem; it’s probably your diet.
But not just any random part of your workout; specifically your carbohydrate intake.
At this point you’re probably thinking “but wait won't eating more carbs make me fat?”, and a plausible question it is.
A nutritional plan without smart carb intake is like pouring the wrong fuel (such as kerosene instead of gasoline) into your car and expecting it to get you the same place at the same time, or even there at all!
But how can you exploit carbs for their immense benefits while also simultaneously minimizing their not so desirable effects? Turns out a lot of this comes down to timing.
A Solid Carbohydrate Strategy
While solid food should form the nutritional base for sustainable performance improvement and muscle gain, supplements exist to solve two problems; a diet that can benefit from a boost, and speed. We will be looking at carb supplementation from the speed perspective, since you should be capable of devising an effective diet plan before you throw your weight behind supplements.
Most carbohydrate supplements you can buy fall into the fast absorbing category, which make them ideal for use at the peri-workout interval, though there are lesser known options which we will mention in this article as well.
Aren’t All Carbs The Same?
No. while all carbohydrates may ultimately breakdown into a simpler form (most often glucose), they vary significantly in how fast this happens and how efficient this is. The aim of most carb supplements is to get nutrients in your blood as fast as possible, a feat not easily accomplished by solid food. The most popular carb supplements available on the market today include the following:
Dextrose is the most popular carbohydrate in the world, and the one which is the best representation of the glucose our body uses. Dextrose is actually D-glucose, one of two naturally occurring isomeric forms of glucose (the other being L-glucose) and also the most dominant of the two.
It is a simple carbohydrate and boasts the advantage of affordability and rapid onset of action. Dextrose can have an impact on blood glucose levels in as little as two minutes and is almost fully absorbed by the ten minute mark.
This speed of absorption makes it useful when timing matters, such as immediately after your workout[i] and upon waking in the morning.
It is not best in class for use throughout the day as it results in very acute and short lived spikes to insulin[ii] and blood sugar that may contribute to fat storage.
There is a degree of confusion that surrounds maltodextrin, much of which stems from the fact that it is classified as a polysaccharide. How does confusion stem from this exactly? Simple; because it doesn’t act like a polysaccharide.
Polysaccharides, being complex carbohydrates, theoretically take much longer to breakdown, have a lower glycaemic index (GI), and make better options for use during the day when speed isn’t urgent. But not maltodextrin.
It is atypical because it acts like a simple sugar- rapidly absorbed and able to raise blood glucose levels in a pinch. It may even do so to an extent equal to or greater than dextrose itself, which makes it good as a pre and post-workout carb, and less of an all-day choice. It may also help prevent degradation of performance during your workout when combined with glutamine[iii].
Waxy maize is surprisingly unknown to many athletes, being considered a higher quality carb than the other two for usage throughout the day. While the aforementioned two carbs have GI values of 100 and 85-110 respectively, that of waxy maize is much lower- coming in at just 63.
Waxy maize is a much better inclusion in weight gain products as it does what you need such a product to do; slowly liberate carbohydrates to keep you in an anabolic state. As you may have guessed, however, it comes at a steeper cost.
A patent pending designer carbohydrate[v], in terms of sheer performance this is the top of the food chain. It is a modified carbohydrate that is more rapidly absorbed than dextrose or maltodextrin, from within the stomach directly. This means no intestinal issues.
It also has the property of sustaining energy for up to two hours making it great as a pre-workout carb source. It isn’t that popular as yet owing to the patent pending nature of the formulation.
Hate them or love them, carbs are here to stay. If you want to get a leg up on the competition or just improve your own performance or muscle gain, well timed carbs are essential to your goal.
Be sure to choose the best option wisely; use speed when you need it and opt for slower digesting sources throughout the day with solid food as your base.
[i] Millward, D.J., Davies, C.T., Halliday, D., Wolman, S.L., Matthews, D., & Rennie, M.C. (1982). Effect of exercise on protein metabolism in humans as explored with stable isotopes. Federation proceedings, 41 10, 2686-91 .
[ii] Komatsu M, Takei M, Ishii H, Sato Y. Glucose-stimulated insulin secretion: A newer perspective. J Diabetes Investig. 2013;4(6):511–516. doi:10.1111/jdi.12094
[iii] Nakhostin-Roohi B. Effect of Glutamine and Maltodextrin Acute Supplementation on Anaerobic Power, Asian J Sports Med. Online ahead of Print ; 4(2):34495. doi: 10.5812/asjsm.34495.
[iv] Sands AL, Leidy HJ, Hamaker BR, Maguire P, Campbell WW. Consumption of the slow-digesting waxy maize starch leads to blunted plasma glucose and insulin response but does not influence energy expenditure or appetite in humans. Nutr Res. 2009;29(6):383-390. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2009.05.009
[v] Jeff Golini, Ian C. Clift, Muhammad M. Qureshi, Wendy L. Jones. A Designer Sugar, Karbolyn®, Leads to Tighter Sugar Control than Glucose in a Pre-Diabetic Cohort