Carb-timing is a thing. And it’s a really smart thing to do. In fact, if you’re concerned about aesthetics, losing fat, building muscle, and maximizing your workouts – then carb timing should really be an important thing for you. And for many people who are concerned about the upcoming holidays and the amount of food about to go down, then carb timing really needs to be your thing.
If you’re like most people – you enjoy eating. And I don’t know many people who don’t enjoy eating carbs – especially carbs like stuffing, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, gravy, and all the extras that your family traditionally prepares for the holidays. And I didn’t even get into desserts.
So how do you prepare for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s while keeping to your goals? How do you fit stuffing and pumpkin pie into your macros (or however you eat to keep your nutritional goals in check)?
Carb-timing is exactly what it sounds like: you plan out when you’re going to eat your carbs at a specific time each day.
The best way to eat carbs so that your body uses carbs for fuel, recovery, and muscle building (and not so that they’re stored and converted to fat), is to eat your carbs peri-workout: before, during, and after training. And the closer to this workout that you keep your carbs, the better.
Now, this is only going to work if you’re lifting heavy like powerlifting, bodybuilding, (or just picking up really heavy sh*t) and/or if you’re performing intense intervals such as HIIT/metabolic conditioning workouts and CrossFit. But the vast majority of Strongfigure readers are doing these workouts, so luckily you already have step one under your belt.
So let’s plan out your carbs.
No matter what time of day you lift, have some carbs about an hour before training. Roughly 10% of your total daily carb goal. So if you’re eating 200g of carbs a day, aim for 20g of carbs before your workout (with some protein.)
During your workout, if you’re training for 90 minutes or longer–especially lifting heavy for a solid hour or more, take another 10-15% of your carbs (20-30g) with you. Make these carbs very simple to digest–meaning a banana or those applesauce squeeze pouches or a pack of gummy bears. Something you can easily munch on during rest breaks and something will provide quick energy. Kind of like when runners suck down those gooey sugar packs–same concept.
Then 30 minutes to one hour after your training, eat roughly 40% of your daily carb total from quick-digesting carbs. So if you’re eating 200g of carbs a day, you get 80g of simple carbs. That’s a lot of carbs! You can eat potatoes (any kind) rice (preferably white), fruit, berries, even candy or my personal favorite: cereal.
Why? Because your muscles are like a window and they’re wide open ready to take what you throw in the window and use it for recovery and gains. You’ve got to get the carbs there quickly, so fast-digesting carbs work best. It also works best paired with protein, specifically a fast-acting protein (like whey protein powder).
There’s more to this science, and I’ve written about it specifically here, but for now and the purpose of getting through the holidays, eat your carbs–especially the simple or fast acting carbs–as close to your workout as possible.
Just try your best.
That means on days in which you know you’re going to eat a big meal, just try to workout–really hard and intensely–as close as you can to that meal. You don’t have to be perfect and exercise exactly one hour before the meal and divide up your carbs to the nearest gram to fit your plan, but if you just lift heavy and perform intense cardio as close to that meal as you can, then you’ll be much better off than doing none of these things.
What if you can’t get to the gym on Thanksgiving?
Can you workout at home? Sure, more likely to lift heavier at the gym or work harder when surrounded by people, but something is better than nothing. Here’s a workout that’s really easy to adapt so that you can do it at home. This is one from my 365 Metcons book I wrote (which you can get for FREE right here), videoed by Strongfigure Ambassador Reagan Theurer.
But are there any other options for eating and not stressing out over food?
What if your macros don’t allow for sweet potatoes, stuffing, AND the pumpkin pie you’ve been craving since the leaves fell off the trees?
You take a refeed day.
Simply, if you’ve been eating low carb for a while–whether you’re sticking to a Paleo plan, a zone plate, or counting your macros for fat loss–make your big-meal day a refeed day. On a refeed day, you increase your carbs by about 50 grams. You don’t binge and go overboard with food, you simply add an extra 50-ish extra grams to your plan and have that dessert you’ve been eyeing. And then the next day? Hit the gym hard because your muscles are primed with glycogen and are ready to lift. The day after a refeed is actually a fantastic day to try and hit some PRs. This should be something to look forward to!
So don’t stress about holidays.
For foodies like us who love eating and working out, we shouldn’t have to add extra stress to our days.
- Eat a ton of protein and veggies.
- Eat carbs (especially the desserts and things we typically deem “bad carbs” around your workout–as closely as you can.
- Take a few extra walks with your family.
- Workout at home or take a refeed day.
- Make sensible choices at all other meals.
- Drink even more water than normal.
People like you and me typically have one of two different mentalities concerning holidays and foods:
- “Don’t let one day sabotage your progress and hard work in the gym,”
- “I work hard so I can enjoy life.”
After having my baby, I lean towards the latter. I’m SO excited to see Brielle eat all my favorite Thanksgiving foods in a couple of weeks and I’m not going to stress if I eat more carbs over the course of couple of days. I work hard when I’m at the gym, I make healthy choices at least 90%+ of the time, so I plan on relaxing and enjoying my family for a few days.
The choice doesn’t have to be hard, and it’s all yours to make. What will you do?
Speaking of being a mom, I’m ecstatic that this is Brielle’s first Thanksgiving and she’ll be old enough to really enjoy it–the food, the people, the excitement. To celebrate this and her upcoming first birthday, I’ve created this super-cute off-the-shoulder sweatshirt to celebrate what it means to be strong–like a mother.
Email me your size, color, and shipping address at strongfigure@gmail if you want to grab one of these. They are $34 + $3 shipping and I’ll have them to you before Christmas if you’re holiday shopping! I’m making this order TOMORROW (Thursday 11/16) so you MUST email me within the next 24 hours!!!
If you have any more questions about nutrition, what to eat, how to count macros, etc., contact me, and explain what you’re looking for or how I can help.