The fad-like cycle of promoting low then high-carb diets gives off the impression that consuming carbohydrates is optional, but this actually couldn’t be further from the truth, especially for Mudders in training. (Attention Legionnaires who’re clinging to a Ketogenic diet, you might want to skip this piece. But if you’re an open-minded Mudder and are looking for nutritional switch-ups to improve your Tough Mudder training, this article is for you).
Here’s the quick and dirty: At the end of the day, the solution is neither to cut carbs altogether nor go on a carb overload. Instead, it’s best to ensure that you’re consuming adequate fuel at the right time of day. According, to health coach and personal trainer Brittany Mullins, founder of Eating Bird Food, there is a best times to eat carbohydrates for optimal athletic gains. Check out what she had to say below. You just might find that the change gets you ready for a new PR, or maybe even preps you to take on a new Tough Mudder challenge (World’s Toughest Mudder, anyone?).
First off, experts advise that 45 to 65 percent of daily calories consist of carbs. Carbs are our body’s main energy source, so trading them out for protein only or fat alone is a dangerous game to play, as you’re gambling with compromised mental and physical functionality in the short and long term, or at least according to research. The T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University encourages consuming carbs in the form of healthy, whole grains such as whole wheat bread, rye, barley and quinoa, while avoiding refined and processed carbohydrates. In addition to bread, whole fruits and beans provide slow, steady sources of fuel that’ll help get you through those final, grueling reps as you train. Mullins also advocates for whole food options due to their high nutrient density. Things like starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, beets and carrots), fruit and whole grains (like oats, quinoa, rice, etc.) are key.
“The best time of day to eat carbs,” Mullins explains, “is right before and after your workout.” Obviously, you’ll want to fuel up before you crush it during your obstacle-specific training, and once again after all of that energy had been depleted. “Ideally, your pre-workout meal should be about 3-4 hours before training so the food has time to be digested and used for energy,” Mullins notes. As for post-workout mealtime? Make it within an 30-60 minutes after training to optimally replenish glycogen stores, she shares.
As with so many fitness and wellness-related goals, optimal health is truly about achieving a level of balance that is different for everyone. So beware of over-carbing, as you don’t want to push it to the opposite extreme, either because you’ll certainly feel it. “Eating too many carbs before a workout could cause gastrointestinal distress,” Mullins insists, making for a pretty, um, uncomfortable stint at the gym — or on the obstacles, for that matter. But a lot of this is personal, so don’t be afraid to do a little trial and error because within that 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake benchmark, there’s obviously some wiggle room.
How are athletes and Mudders to know when they’ve found their carbohydrate sweet-spot? Consider your goals: are you looking to lean out in order to increase your running speed? Or are you trying instead to put on more muscle and lift heavy? The amount of carbs consumed will depend on your energy needs, the intensity of your workout and fitness goals, Mullins says.
Food fuels your training, and carbs are a vital component of that fuel especially if you plan to ramp up your event training going into the new year. The takeaway? Add carb-dense meals a few hours before training and carbed-up snacks in the hour after you finish.