Carb Timing

Carb timing, i.e., managing when you eat your complex carbohydrates, can be very helpful in speeding up your journey toward leanness.  Carb timing is a subset of the science (for lack of a better word) of nutrient timing, which supports the idea that when you eat in comparison to when you exercise can have a notable effect on the effectiveness of your weight loss efforts.

Background on Carb Timing

There are certain times of the day when it is advantageous for us to consume carbohydrates, as well as other nutrients.  Here, we will focus on carb timing only.

Simplistically, when our body's insulin levels are at their lowest, we are less likely to store the glucose produced from the digestion of carbohydrates as fat. This condition is known as "high insulin sensitivity."  Instead, the insulin will take the glucose and feed it to our muscles cells to replenish the glycogen (insulin-converted glucose) shortage that has occurred.  If we eat carbohydrates during periods of low insulin sensitivity, our muscles are usually already full of glycogen and the insulin transforms the glucose into fat for storage.  Since we are trying to lose body fat, we clearly don't want this to occur.

How do we know when the time is right to eat our carbs? 

When to Ingest Carbohydrates

There are two primary times of the day that our muscles cells are very low on glycogen (so they will be receptive to replenishment).  The first is right after waking up in the morning.  Think about this, your body has gone without food for 8, 10 or maybe 12 hours.  Since eating while sleeping is really difficult, our body uses the glycogen stores to fuel its overnight activities (breathing, muscle recovery, heart pumping, etc.).  Insulin levels are low, so eat complex carbs for breakfast.  They will be used to reload your muscles.  Since you are eating again in 3 hours, don't pig out.  Just consume enough to jumpstart your day.

The second time when we are out of glycogen is right after an intense workout; one in which our heart rate is elevated for 30 minutes or more.  We have worked hard and our muscles have used up most or all of their stored glycogen.  A good time to eat more carbs is 45 minutes to 1 hour after completion of the workout.  Definitely don't wait more than 2 hours to consume some high quality carbohydrates.   


To summarize, timing your carbohydrates is an important part of your nutrition program.

  • Eat carbs for breakfast.
  • Eat carbs after an intense workout.
  • You could, in a pinch, eat them before your workout if you work out late in the day and it has been 8 or more hours since breakfast (you are likely running low on muscle glycogen by then).  Again, no more that 2 hours before your workout.
  • On non-workout days, you should consider just eating them at breakfast.  It really depends on where you are in your fat-loss journey.  Experiment and see what is right for you.

I'll see you on another page.

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