TO CARB LOAD OR NOT
As an athlete, parent of an athlete, coach, or average consumer, we are drawn to foods advertised as quick sources of energy. Whether carbing' up for a race, packing a gym bag with snacks, filling your nostalgic green Gatorade bottle, or feeding the team after a big game, it is extremely difficult to filter through the shelves at GNC or Walmart, and come out with anything worthwhile, or beneficial to performance or recovery.
IS CARB LOADING NECESSARY?
Our choices are skewed by false marketing, glamorous packaging, and misleading labels promoting athletic buzzwords, such as recovery, strength and stamina. We have drinks and protein bars promising regeneration of muscle tissue. Powders and pills offering joint strength and pain relief. Snacks and jelly beans marketed as energy blasts for speed and endurance. Candy bars being pushed as strength builders and fat burners.
So is any of this stuff worth the overpriced investment? If not, how do you fuel your body for optimum performance? Well, I can tell you this, humans have been physically active, athletic, and putting their bodies through rigorous tests of endurance long before Power-Aid and Cliff Bars were there to get them through. Think of the Greeks running the first marathons, or Egyptians constructing the most significant structures known to man.
Likely, one of the largest misconceptions fed to the modern athletic community is that you need carbohydrates for energy. Not just carbohydrates in moderation, but somehow you must bring your body to the brink of overdose on pasta and power bars before a race or competition, or you’re doomed for failure.
ARE CARBS EFFECTING MY WORKOUTS?
The generally understood scientific basis for this, is simply that processed carbohydrates (sugar) will give you quick bursts of energy. Unfortunately, what is rarely addressed, is that after that temporary burst, your body must release an influx of insulin to break down the flood of glucose sent through your intestines-the aftermath, an endurance crash that leaves your stomach empty and craving fuel. Full from what? You got it, sugar. Similar to cocaine, you receive a quick high as your body absorbs and breaks down the sugar molecules, and then after flooding the bloodstream, requires more to maintain that same high, and continue functioning at the same level.
In actuality, our bodies utilize energy from fats and cholesterol much more efficiently than any carbohydrate ever could. The heart relies on energy from animal and plant fats to function at optimal levels. This includes cardiovascular function. Which is the main organ, literally pumping us through a long run, soccer game, bike ride, or boxing match. In fact, energy from too many carbohydrates can cause your heart to malfunction, palpitate, and interrupt blood flow to the the rest of your body, severely effecting your physical potential. In addition, bacteria, disease, and viruses feed on glucose. They thrive on the ability to quickly break down sugars, and eating too many carbohydrates, especially in a weakened immune state, can prolong, and even spawn illness, especially during a training cycle.
ARE CARBS KEEPING ME FROM LOSING WEIGHT?
If weight loss is a driving factor in your exercise program, eating carbohydrates before a workout will significantly inhibit your body from utilizing your existing fat cells as fuel. Since carbohydrates are the quicker and easiest of the two to break down, your body will utilize that sugar for energy first. So if you eat a starchy granola bar at 57.5 grams (230 calories) before a run, your body will use that before it begins to access your fat stores. Your body will prefer the quick energy over the fats, because it has to do less work, and you may feel an instant drop in performance as it signals to you for more sugar.
DO I GET MORE ENERGY FROM CARBS OR PROTEIN?
Carbohydrates are made up of 4 calories per gram. Where as fats are made up of 9 per gram. So you may not get that instant sugar high as you would from a Gatorade, but you will be able to sustain yourself on a much smaller amount, and utilize that energy for a longer period of time, thus enhancing the duration and productivity of your body.
You will also be fueling your heart brain, bones, joints, and ligaments for the long term. Essentially, your body should be looked at as a complete system, and should be treated as though each part is not only responsible for its singular function, but for the function of the machine in entirety.
WHY ARE WORKOUT FOODS HIGHLY MARKETED?
Packaging and marketing perfectly balanced animal and plant proteins is inconvenient. It’s more expensive to mass produce. It does not have an endless shelf life, and can’t be sold with labels like Mountain Breeze Trail Blazer or Muscle Juice. The industrialization of our food system aims to sell you special food for every aspect of your life. The human diet has been segmented, packaged, and distributed as an attractive product. In a competitive market, being at the cusp of innovation is necessary to thrive, which leads to a constant reinvention of shelf sustaining foods, at low cost and high quantity.
Our bodies don’t function as hunks of plastic and metal. Our anatomy is not a man made modern mechanical system. Manipulation and tinkering with our fuel system is not the same as it might be in the automative or toy industry. We require a specific and standardized combination of reliable energy, sourced sustainably, and largely from the environment and lands we live on. You don’t need pre-packaged performance foods to get you from point A to B. Nor will they make or break a win for your team. What you need and what your body needs, is not marginal sustenance, but real food. Premium fuel. Honest energy. A whole, nutrient rich diet with the ability to sustain you for life.