Carbs: Present or Paycheck?

I took a client out for sushi for his birthday immediately following his training session.  He had mentioned earlier in the week how he liked sushi.  I shared my love of all foods Asian (save kimchi) with him and said I wanted to treat him.

He made a comment that white rice—the centerpiece of most sushi rolls—probably wasn’t a good food choice.  Well, I saw a learning opportunity in his statement, and I wanna share it with you.

I don’t look at food as good or bad.  (After all, ALL foods can fulfill a need, and isn’t that good?)  I think foods should be viewed along a continuum—better to worse.  But not only can foods be viewed along a continuum, when those foods are eaten can be viewed along a continuum as well.  A better time to eat carbs is after a training session.

There’s something called hedonic compensation.  When punished, you’ll seek pleasure.  Often people view exercise as punishment.*  Because of that, they’ll seek pleasure.  Most often in food.  Or, they’ll use food as a reward for the work (exercise) they just put in.

In the example of my client, in no way do I want him (or you!) to think that he deserves white rice.  But he did earn it.  The white rice (or any other carb) isn’t a present, it’s a paycheck.

I’m gonna get a little science-y on you now but bear with me (especially if you wanna know how to earn carbs!)

Carbohydrates (you know, the thing we’ve vilified) are converted in the body as either glycogen or fat.  Glycogen is stored in your muscles and your liver.  It’s when your muscles and liver are “full” that carbs are converted to and stored as fat.

Glycogen fuels your muscles.  When you strength train like my client had, your body uses glycogen. So, post workout your body has somewhere to put the carbs you do eat.  Not only is this just okay, if you’re training with intensity, this is better than okay (another continuum).

Think of it this way.  Your muscles are a sponge.  When you strength train, you’re ringing out the sponge [of glycogen].  When you eat that first meal after strength training, your rung-out muscles will suck up carbs like a sponge.  Assuming you don’t overeat (which can happen), your body won’t store the carbs as fat but instead fuel for your next workout.

So, what’re the takeaways here?

First, don’t fear carbs.  You can lose fat on a high-carb, low-carb, or no-carb diet.

Second, there is a better time for carbs, particularly processed, sugary ones.  Save these for your post-workout meal.

Third, make a “post-workout meal” necessary.  In other words, strength train!

*If you view exercise as punishment, I wanna encourage you to spend less time working on your diet and more on your mindset.  Exercise (and better yet, training!) is a celebration of what you can do (“Look what this amazing body can do!”) and not penance for what you’ve done (“My fat ass ate like crap again last night.  I gotta go exercise.”)