By Julia Kawamoto
Q: When might someone choose white carbs like rice over whole-grain ones?
A: I would recommend choosing whole-grain options most of the time since consistently eating refined carbohydrates can lead to nutrient deficiencies. However, in some instances choosing “white” carbs (or more-refined grains like white rice) can be beneficial when trying to seek out food that can be easily digested to rapidly replenish fuel stores. Despite being relatively lower in overall nutrients such as essential fatty acids, B vitamins, vitamin E, various minerals, and fibre, refined grains are usually much easier to digest because the fibrous outer component of the grain, the bran, has been removed. In addition, refined grains do not contain phytic acid, a compound present in the outer portion of whole grains, which impedes the absorption of minerals from the small intestine. While sprouting and soaking whole grains before cooking are ways to improve their digestibility and nutrient availability, these preparation methods are not always practical. Occasionally choosing enriched refined grains may take some of the work off of the digestive system and can be a useful, practical component of a preor post-workout meal.
Q: What should and shouldn’t you eat during your workout?
A: Choosing what to eat during a workout really depends on what was consumed pre-workout as well as the intensity and duration of the workout. During exercise, the body effectively turns off digestive functions by directing blood flow to the working peripheral muscles and away from the digestive organs; therefore, you’ll want to avoid foods that may cause digestive distress such as those that are high in fibre, fat, and protein. For the average gym-goer who may spend an hour to 90 minutes in the gym, eating during your workout is usually unnecessary provided you have been properly fuelled before. If you haven’t or you are working out intensely for over 90 minutes, a high-carbohydrate drink with some branched-chain amino acids can give you enough easy-to-digest fuel to get through your workout and is unlikely to cause digestive issues.
Q: Is the rule of thumb that you have to eat 60 minutes after your workout true?
A: Recent research seems to indicate that the one-hour window for post-workout nutrition, once considered crucial to maximize gains and promote recovery, may be less rigid than was previously thought and that other factors, such as pre-workout nutrition and the overall daily intake of nutrients, also determine how the body utilizes nutrients post-workout. In a recent review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, researchers found that “maintaining a high intramuscular glycogen content at the onset of training appears beneficial to desired resistance training outcomes” since adequate glycogen stores help attenuate the breakdown of muscle tissue. One study found that working out in a glycogen-depleted state induced more than twice the amount of nitrogen losses (a byproduct of muscle tissue breakdown) compared to working out under a glycogen-loaded state. When determining protein intake pre- and post-workout, the available evidence seems to indicate that total daily protein intake may be the most important consideration; however, studies in this area are limited. In general, the optimal timing of a post-workout meal depends on when your last meal was and when your next workout will be. There may be a period of a few hours both before and after the workout where your body will be particularly receptive to nutrients so you may not have to be as regimented with fueling up right away afterwards, unless you are going to be working out again the same day.
Q: Should I eat a low-carb or high-carb breakfast?
A: Breakfast does not have to be either low- or high-carb, but should match your activity level and body composition, and be proportional to the total macronutrients you eat for the day. You may find that you want a higher-carb breakfast if you are working out in the morning because it is easily digested and quickly becomes usable energy for your workout. If you spend much of your day sitting at a desk, you may want to shift to lower-carb meals for the rest of the day. On the other hand, if you are a very lean person with a high amount of muscle mass, keeping your total carb intake low may be less of an issue. Some people like to start the day with just a slice of whole-grain bread and almond butter, while other people may want an egg omelet — all are acceptable options provided they fit in with the bigger picture.