When it comes to carbohydrates and carbohydrate timing, there’s a fine line between what kind you should be eating and when. Not to mention how many grams you should eat and when not to eat any at all. Proper carbohydrate timing depends on the task at hand and your goals. If you are trying to get lean you are likely limiting carbs to some degree as well as doing a lot of cardio and weights. The correct use of this approach does produce good results.
Carbohydrate Timing & Muscle Mass
If muscle mass is your goal, a more systematic approach to carbohydrates will be required. A cyclic diet makes sense even if you are already lean because your body requires less calories on off days then on training days. It’s also true that too many carbs, if not burned off for fuel, will be stored as fat. Your muscles and liver can only hold so much glycogen ( made from glucose). The amount of glycogen the muscles/liver can hold really depends on the weight of the individual. Also the amount of muscle mass that person carries. A rough figure usually given is between 200 and 350 grams. The liver is capable of storing only 100 grams.
Carbohydrate Timing & Cell Volume
It’s important to note that for every 1 gram of carbs stored, 3 grams of water are also stored. This ties into the cell volumization concept that so many products today promote. As part of that process, then, adequate carb-and water- intake is critical. It’s also important to note that the average person stores enough glycogen for about 12 hours.
However, bodybuilders are not average. As soon as you begin to exercise you begin to burn glycogen for fuel. Once you deplete glycogen stores through exercise and/or low carb eating, it can take up to 48 hours to replenish. When is the most critical time to take in most of your carbohydrates? First thing in the morning and in the hours surrounding the workout.
Part of this process is the manipulation of the anabolic hormone insulin. I talked about this hormone in my article Hormones and Muscle Growth.
Here is a recap from that article.
Insulin is a peptide hormone released by the pancreas when glucose concentrations exceed normal levels. Elevated levels of arginine and leucine also cause this hormone to be released. Insulin effects are asserted through a series of steps that begins when it binds to receptor proteins on the cell membrane. This leads to activation of the receptor which attaches phosphate groups to intracellular enzymes.
What this means is that it enhances glucose absorption and utilization. It also means more ATP production. It also enhances amino acid absorption and protein synthesis. Additionally, it stimulates fat storage. So it can be seen that insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone. But, it’s also a double edged sword.
Therefore insulin must be controlled. You only want a spike when you are severely depleted of glycogen. For example, at the end of your workout. At that time insulin is very anabolic. It shuttles nutrients into the muscles and blocks the catabolic hormone cortisol.
Carbohydrate Timing & Workout Nutrition
Let’s go back to the time around the workout. Here’s one of the best things you can do to get the best results from your training session. Set yourself up for nutritional success by eating moderate GI carbs in the hours leading up to the workout. You’re approaching training time. You’re, say, about one hour away. Mix up a drink containing a fast absorbing carb source. Add some essential aminos high in the bcaa’s and glutamine, creatine and nitric oxide.
Carbohydrate Timing Before The Workout
Some pre-mixed powders currently on the market will add insulin mimickers. These may include chromium picolinate, cinnulin, alpha lipoic acid, and 4-hydroxyisoleucine.
Your Intra Workout
Begin to sip your drink about one hour prior to hitting the gym. Drink one more drink through-out the workout to help maintain an anabolic state while you train. Remember, the act of working out is actually a catabolic event.
Carbohydrate Timing After Your Workout
About 30 minutes after your workout, you can have a traditional post workout shake. This should consist of whey protein and a fast digesting carb source. About 45 minutes after that eat a traditional solid protein/carb meal. For example, lean beef, chicken or turkey, brown rice and some mixed veggies. This type of nutrient and carbohydrate timing takes full advantage of the anabolic window. This concept refers to the hour following the workout. More recently really refers to the hours that surround the workout.
Some people don’t buy into the idea of an “anabolic window”. Who cares! It’s not going to hurt anything to eat, right? Then what’s the big deal? There is none. If you want a post workout shake, have one. If you are hungry within a certain time after training, eat. It really is that simple.
Carbohydrate Timing & Cell Volume
As well, you are taking full advantage of the cell volumization concept. This ties into sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. This theory suggests you are increasing the volume of the sarcoplasm. That’s the jelly-like substance that surrounds and bathes the myofibrils in your muscle cells with nutrients. These include water, amino acids, creatine and glycogen.
Carbohydrate Timing And Muscle Growth
There are several current theories of muscle growth. This is one of the more popular theories. It explains why cell volumization is a very big thing today. With this concept you are causing the muscles to pump and swell. One of the ways you can do this is with specific supplements, such as creatine.
Another way relates to carbohydrate timing. Remember, carbs pull water into the muscle cells. This causes the fibers to stretch beyond normal. In theory, this translates into new muscle growth. But there is still some question as to whether or not you’ll see any meaningful strength increases.
Combined with a hard, intense training program you can achieve great results from an approach like this. The ideal training program to use would be one that focuses on hormonal manipulation by targeting testosterone and GH production.
You would combine basic exercises for the target body part. You would work up to a heavy weight and reps in the 6-8 range. Pyramiding works great here: 15, 12, 10, 8 6,4-6 . The first three sets are warm ups, the final three are working sets. The use of rest pause on the working sets is a great way to extend a power set like this. That allows you to get another 3-5 reps. This will target testosterone release.
For GH release, I like to follow this with a more intense approach. For example, a super set which can also incorporate drop sets, burns and static holds. Here’s an example.
For my leg workout the other day this is what I did:
Squats – 3 warm up sets of 15, 12 and 10 reps. Two working sets in the 6-8 rep range but no rest pause. I super set working set # 2 with leg extensions on which I did a 5 drop drop set, holding the weight at the top for a 3 count at the end of each sequence.
This type of training approach does several things. First, it promotes maximum hormone release through the use of basic exercises and intensity techniques. Next, it keeps the muscles under tension for quite a while. According to research twenty seconds is the minimum a set should last for maximum muscle stimulation.
You are hitting different fiber types by using different rep ranges. Extended set techniques like super sets and drops act to extend your rep totals. You are training to and beyond failure. Also you are not ignoring strength or intensity.
There are differing definitions of intensity. Some refer to work done per unit of time and some refer to effort exerted: this approach covers them both. This is a quick routine so I was done within twenty minutes ( including hams and calves).
Finally, this approach does a lot for the pump! Of course, supplements help, carbohydrate timing applies here as well. After all, your muscles use carbs for energy.
Let me give you one more example of a routine I recently did: arms. I seldom train biceps and triceps together but this past week I did. I did, after warm-ups, 3 supersets of 3 different exercises done all as a tri-set.
Here’s how it looked:
Warm-ups – superset EZ curls with EZ extensions ( two supersets).
Working sets – heavier superset of EZ curls with EZ extensions, right into a superset of supinating dumbbell curls and dumbbell extensions, right into incline dumbbell curls with triceps press-downs. This is all one set and I did this twice.
I did no other techniques but I did go to failure on each set and at failure I used a type of rest pause where you just hold the weight for a 3-4 count and simply get the thing up there while maintaining good form.
So, in this case I accomplished much the same thing as with legs except my use of basic exercises were not separated from the rest of the routine.
Now, I do believe that different muscles do not respond the same to the same intensity techniques. This may also be an individual thing. I’ll use myself as an example. I find the training approach I just used for legs doesn’t seem to work well for chest. With chest I find my triceps burn first which in turn limits my set. So I use a post exhaust superset approach: bench presses with flyes, really emphasizing the stretch on the flyes.
On chest, I add a bit of volume and train quickly but can’t get away with the drop sets or tri-set supersets. So, to me an ideal training routine would take into account individual response to different techniques. This is where you have to experiment with different techniques to determine what works best. Additionally you may find you don’t have this problem at all and all muscles respond well to the same technique.
Anyway, these types of routines when combined with the carb timing techniques discussed above, will produce great results! Just remember that any routine will work only as long as it takes you to adjust to it.
Typically that will be about 3-4 weeks. At that point it’s time to make some changes. I prefer to make fairly big changes like new exercises. Or, new intensity techniques and new body part groupings. But I always maintain a core group of exercises that are too important to drop, such as squats, deads, benches.
To a lesser degree, you can change things like rep style, rep performance and rest periods. Ideally, you can pick 6-8 routines that you feel have worked best for you. Set them up in a logical fashion and rotate them over 3-4 week periods. As long as there is progressive logic to it, meaning you gradually increase intensity for example or strength, you will see good results.
By: Jim Brewster