Low carb diets ROCK! When you reduce your carb intake, you prime your body for faster fat loss. Without carbs, your body has no choice but to burn more fat for fuel. Not only that, fewer carbs means lower levels of blood glucose and insulin, which further enhances fat loss. You’ll also have fewer cravings, more stable energy levels, less brain fog, fewer mood swings, sleep better, and generally feel great!
But, on the downside, low carb diets can sometimes leave you feeling low on energy for exercise. Why? Because of glucose, which we get from carbohydrate, is the preferred source of energy for your muscles – especially during intense exercise.
Exercise does use fat for fuel but, as soon as you start working harder, your body prefers to use more carbs for energy. It simply doesn’t have the time to break down lots of fat for energy when you exercise at higher levels of intensity.
Carbs, in contrast, are quickly broken down for energy. Of course, if you aren’t eating many carbs, this means your workouts could end up being shorter or less intense than you might otherwise like.
Exercising on a low carb diet can be hard (learn how to start an easy low carb diet); your legs can feel heavy, you’ll lack muscle power, and you’ll get tired sooner. You might also find that you take longer to recover between trips to the gym. This is especially true if you lift weights, or do other high-intensity workouts.
So, that creates a bit of a dilemma; you want to eat fewer carbs to lose fat and keep it off, but you need to eat carbs to make sure you have enough energy for your workouts. Learn more about carbs on my recent article What Are Carbs ?.
Thankfully, there is a solution – carb timing.
With carb timing, you simply manage your carb intake around exercise to make sure you provide your muscles with what they need, when they need it, but then cut down on carbs when you are less active, and carbs are more likely to be converted to fat or interfere with fat loss.
Let me explain what I mean with a practical example; this is what I do. I normally exercise on my way home after work – about 6pm.
- Breakfast: Low carb
- Snack: Low carb
- Lunch: Low carb
- Snack: High carb
- Post workout snack: High carb
- Dinner: Low carb
As you can see, most of the day, I follow a low carb diet to make sure I burn fat. After all, I have an office job, and I don’t need all the energy that carbs provide when I’m just sitting at my desk working on my computer. However, an hour or so before my workout, I eat a high carb snack to make sure I have the energy for my upcoming workout.
Once my workout is complete, I then consume another high carb snack to replenish my depleted glycogen stores – glycogen being stored carbs. This means I recover faster from my workout than I would without carbs.
Because I know the carbs consumed before and after exercise are going to be used quickly, I eat healthy but fast-acting foods such as white bread, white pasta, or white rice, a bagel, some rice cakes, a ripe banana, or something similar. Each snack contains around 30-50 grams of carbs, very little fat, and maybe a small amount of protein too.
The snacks are quickly digested so that the food has been digested before I start my workout; you don’t want a whole lot of partially digested food in your stomach when you are about to work out!
For dinner, I go back to low carbs because, soon after, I’ll be going to bed, and don’t need the fast acting energy that carbs provide.
On the days I don’t exercise at all, I stick to low carbs all day because I don’t need that extra energy.
You can use this carb timing method whatever time you exercise; just have a high-carb snack 1-2 hours before your workout to give you energy, and another high-carb snack immediately after exercise to make sure you recover more quickly.
The only time this can be difficult is if you exercise first thing in the morning (learn How to Schedule Your Fitness). In this instance, I recommend a sports drink as it will be digested quickly and won’t fill you up.
Many people think that low carb diets are not compatible with exercise but, if you use this carb timing trick, that really isn’t true. In fact, by eating carbs before and after exercise, you can have all the benefits of the low carb diet and none of the drawbacks. Try it for yourself – it works for me and I’m sure it’ll work for you too!
What Are Carbs? A Beginner’s Carbs Guide
Understand how carbs are processed in your body and how to eat the right carbs to lose weight. Learn more here.