Fuel Your Engine

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My latest blog has been inspired by my performances and energy levels in the gym. In recent times I found myself searching through every article on the internet in order to self-diagnose why my current energy levels have been at a massive low. Yes, LOW! My initial thought was that I was over training and not getting enough rest, but following some time off, I discovered that it was not the case, so back to the drawing board I went. A close assessment of my diet was what followed the rest and although on paper it looked great, in reality it wasn’t enough. In my quest for an answer I stumbled across this Blog written by a Coach, named Jordana Romany out of CrossFit Markham.

Why Carbs Aren’t Your Enemy

With my experience in nutrition, one of the most talked about topics is on the basis of carbohydrates. Carb consumption, good carbs vs bad carbs, high glycemic carbs, natural carbs, etc. Carbs are by far one of the most misunderstood nutrients, and yet as athletes (or for anyone who is active) play such a critical role in giving your body what it needs.

Let’s set something straight, carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient – a nutrient that has caloric value to it. Other macronutrients include lipids (fat), protein, and alcohol. Types of carbohydrates include starches, sugar, or fiber. Excess carbohydrate consumption in the form of sugar (especially pop) and/or high glycemic foods like white bread, white rice, candy, white potato along with lack of exercise is what is linked to increased prevalence of obesity in North America.

Each macronutrient has a different responsibility unique to its metabolic processes. Certain organs in your body are capable of metabolizing only carbs for fuel, which include your brain, red blood cells, and kidneys.  Additionally, your muscles store carbs in long branches and chains in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is the fuel your muscles use when exercising, particularly at high intensities or during intermittent exercise – sound familiar?

This is where the misconception about carbs comes into play, especially with CrossFitters, or any physically active person. During your workout, your muscles are under high physical demand and require appropriate fuel to be able to perform the task at hand. Said fuel is in the form of glycogen. However, if you don’t have the appropriate carbohydrate stores, your body will begin to tap into other fuel sources, which include your fat and protein storage. To simplify, if you perform high intensity exercise on a regular basis, without the proper carbohydrate intake, you compromise your ability to gain muscle or fortify the existing muscle. As a result, you essentially burn through fat stores and begin to “eat away” at the muscle you already have, as your muscles’ alternative to glycogen.

So what’s the problem with this? For athletes looking to lose body fat, specifically women, and look “lean” or “toned” this may sound completely fine – you’ve burned through some fat and didn’t want to get big and bulky to begin with, right? Wrong.

The issue with not eating enough carbohydrates for exercise lies in your body’s inability to build and strengthen lean tissue. Without adequate glycogen stores you aren’t able to refuel or rebuild the tears in your muscle fibers naturally caused by exercise. As a result, that rule of “muscle burning fat” doesn’t apply since you’re losing your muscle.. There goes your lean and toned body!

So what if you don’t care to be lean or toned, and you just want to crush WODs, PR and possibly even put on some weight? Well, guess what? Carbs are still your friend! Again, adequate glycogen stores are a critical component in muscle synthesis and reestablishing those muscle tears. It has been demonstrated that carbohydrate intake enhances one’s athletic ability and performance simply because you’ve giving your muscles the right fuel for the right task. This is the nutrition piece that will help you towards your performance goals.

“But I’m paleo, I don’t eat carbs!” It’s understandable that a big chunk of CrossFitters are paleo, and as a result don’t eat grains or traditional foods that are higher carb. If beans/oatmeal/rice/quinoa are not part of your diet for whatever your reasoning may be – you can always opt for sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnips, rutabaga, or any root vegetable. Remember that fruit has sugar in it, and sugar is a form of carb, too! Fruit is a great way to get in a quick carb fix after a WOD since its sugar content makes it easily absorbed into your bloodstream – not to mention that quick absorbing carbs enhance protein uptake too.  So how much should I eat? As a generalization, if you’re into carb counting, moderate carbohydrate intake from non-sugary sources at about 3-5g/kg of bodyweight on training days should suffice for most people – non-training days can range from 2-4g/kg of bodyweight.

To sum it up, nutrition is an evident pillar in achieving your fitness goals, with carbohydrate consumption being a significant component. You just need to find specific foods and quantities that work for you.
Jordana Romany

After reading this article I have made a few adjustments to my ways of eating and despite only being 2 full days in, I can already feel a massive difference in my Energy levels. One thing to remember is that the food we eat should be aligned with the daily activity demand of each individual. This is something that needs to be very specific and will take loads of trial and error. Don’t shy away from a good old carb and ensure you are getting enough fuel to avoid running off empty.

Coach Mario

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