Building muscle and burning fat are both two incredibly complex and difficult processes that can take people years, even decades, to fully get to grips with just how tricky they really are. When it comes to building muscle, burning fat, and getting in shape, sadly, despite what magazines and questionable looking online ads may have us believe, there are no quick fixes, and there are no shortcuts. When it comes to building muscle and burning fat, training in the gym is the simple part, the difficult part is dialling in your diet and your nutrition. When we think of fat loss and muscle growth, two macronutrients that tend to get the most attention, are: fat and protein. That’s all well and good, but what about our friend the carbohydrate? Carbohydrates are often overlooked in favour of protein and fats, at least in terms of getting in shape, yet, if used correctly, carbohydrates could be the key to the perfect physique. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as it is the meal that, well, breaks our seven – ten hour fast as we slept. Breakfast is essential as it kick-starts our metabolisms and gives us the energy needed for the day ahead, and although people often start their days with high carb meals, are carbs actually the most beneficial food sources for your very first meal, if you are in fact, trying to get in shape? Let’s do a little more digging, shall we?
What are carbs and how do they function?
Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients, the other two being fats and proteins, that are essential for the human body to function correctly. Carbohydrates are comprised of sugars, fibres, and starches that are found in foods such as fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk-based products. As macronutrients, they are only one of three ways in which our bodies are able to get energy from the foods and drinks that we consume, so they most certainly have their place in our daily eating regimes. Carbohydrates are actually the human body’s primary source of energy that comes from food and supplement consumption, as the body finds their molecules the easiest to break down and convert into energy. Carbs found in food we consume are broken down and converted into glucose, or into a form of sugar that can easily be converted into glucose molecules. The glucose makes its way into our bloodstreams, where it is then carried around our body and delivered to our cells to provide them with energy. Once the cells are full of energy, any remaining glucose is stored via the liver, with some being kept for later on, in the event of blood sugar levels dropping too much, and the remaining being converted into body fat and being stored as an emergency energy supply for use at a later date.
Should you have carbs for your first meal of the day?
To be able to provide an answer to this question, we must first take the time to figure out a few things about what it is you are looking to get from your training, and indeed, when in the day you happen to be training in the first place. There is no right or wrong answer as to whether or not your first meal should contain carbs, as it all depends on certain other factors, including:
When you exercise – If you enjoy training early in the morning, so that you can get your workouts out of the way early, or even if you simply don’t have the time to train at any other period of the day, you may be better off with skipping the carbs for breakfast, and here’s why. There are two forms of carbohydrates: complex carbs, and simple carbs. Simple carbs come from typically unhealthy sources, such as those rich in simple sugar. They spike insulin levels and provide fast, but temporary bursts of energy. Complex carbohydrates however, are broken down and absorbed differently, and take much longer to be absorbed by the body. Because of this, they provide slow and sustained bursts of energy that last around 3 – 4 hours on average. Simple carbs are quickly absorbed and used by the body, so they wouldn’t fuel your entire workout, whereas complex carbs can take as long as 90 minutes before they even begin fuelling your body. If you wake up at 7AM, and plan on exercising at 7.30AM, the carbohydrates simply wouldn’t have time to make their way into your system quickly enough, or, in the case of simple carbs, they would be in and out far too quickly. Instead, breakfasts rich in healthy fats and low carbs are your best bets, as the fats will take the place of the carbs, and will help to fuel your body. If you train later in the day however, complex carbohydrates will stock up your muscle glycogen stores, and will help provide a sustained stream of energy.
If you consume healthy fats for breakfast – A lot of people tend to make the mistake of combining healthy fat sources with complex carbohydrate sources for breakfast, as they think that the combination of both, will provide them with the most energy. In reality, the exact opposite occurs as they cancel each other out. If you enjoy, say, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon for breakfast, skip the toast or bagel, because this can lead to fat gain. By having just fat, the fat is used for fuel for the body, so it isn’t stored as body fat. If you combine the fat with carbohydrates however, the body will use the carbs for energy instead, meaning that the fat will not only not be used as energy, but, not wanting it to go to waste, the body will instead store it as, well, fat. Put simply, if you have carbs for breakfast, avoid fat in the same meal, and if you have healthy fats for breakfast, avoid the carbs.