One of the biggest dietary challenges is to know how to select your carbohydrate intake based on your lifestyle and training requirements. This article gives tips on how to fuel your training based on the demands of that session, and offers smart swaps when you’re craving something naughty!
Maximise training performance
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for high-intensity exercise performance. For weight management, your nutrition should be periodised to maximise both carbohydrate availability for performance, but also taking into account your body’s energy requirements when at rest. With this in mind, ensure that you support your training with sufficient carbohydrates before, during (depending on duration & intensity) and after. Endurance exercise conducted in the fasted state also promotes fat metabolism, so occasionally training with reduced carbohydrate availability is also recommended.
Exercise intensity is associated with a simultaneous increase in the dependence of carbohydrates for energy, so naturally when you’re resting or performing low intensity exercise e.g. walking, the body wants to use its fat stores as fuel. So when performance is not critical periods of rest and reduced intensity should be fuelled by foods with reduced carbohydrate and higher fat (primarily unsaturated fats) along with sufficient protein.
Choose your carbohydrates wisely
Low-glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates have long been thought to be better than high-GI carbs especially for fat loss diets. A food’s GI is determined by the effect it has on the body’s blood sugar levels; the higher the GI reflects a higher blood sugar response. Although research suggests there to be no difference between calorie-controlled diets that solely contain low- or high-GI carbohydrates, it would still be recommended to prioritise low-GI carbohydrates for good health to keep blood sugar levels under control and also to improve satiety to prevent overeating.
Opting for fibrous, nutrient rich vegetables to accompany a high quality protein source helps to reduce feelings of hunger during meals, and only adding additional carbohydrates (potatoes or whole-grains) dependent on training requirements.
Smart sugar craving swaps
When you’re craving something sweet then here are some sensible options to satisfy your sweet tooth:
Chocolate → 85% dark chocolate
A natural source of cocoa that contains important nutrients such as iron, manganese and zinc, at it’s also a source of antioxidants. Just a couple of squares is also sufficient as it can be quite bitter, so you’re less likely to demolish a whole bar which is always possible when it’s Dairy Milk!
Sweets & confectionary → nuts & berries
Heavily processed sugary treats of no nutritional value should be swapped for sweet tasting, antioxidant-rich, low calorie berries. Together with mixed nuts and Greek yoghurt makes the perfect snack.
Crisps, chips & savoury → milk, eggs
Indulging on foods like crisps, chips and pretzels are high in salt, but swapping these for a pint of milk is a great alternative that contains protein and is a natural source of sodium and other electrolytes.
Cereal → eggs
Cereals can be very high in sugar which can actually negatively influence what you eat the rest of the day. Research shows that having a high protein breakfast improves food choices, suppresses appetite and curbs sugar cravings later in the day compared to a typical carbohydrate based breakfast. Replace your bowl of empty calories with some nutritious, heart-healthy eggs to help you feel fuller for longer and control your late-night sweet tooth cravings.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep deprivation is a common cause of overeating by disrupting hormone levels that regulate appetite. You are much more likely to eat more, especially poor choice foods if you regularly go with 6 or less hours of sleep per night. Sleep is essential for your body to recover and function properly, so make sure that you’re getting 8 hours each night.
Take home points:
- Periodise your carbohydrates to support your training and reduce intake at times of rest and reduced activity to promote fat utilisation.
- Focus on low-GI carbohydrates in the form of fibrous vegetables, fruit, whole-grains, legumes & dairy.
- Try to go for a sensible alternative when craving something sweet e.g. dark chocolate, nuts, berry fruits & dairy.
- Increase protein at breakfast instead of sugary cereals to prevent sweet tooth cravings later in the day.
- Go to bed earlier and get at least 8 hours sleep each night.