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There is much debate regarding the necessity of carbohydrates as they relate to training. Specifically, the debate centers on the need for carbohydrates in regard to needed energy to train. To really delve into the issue, we must divide training into two categories: anaerobic (meaning without oxygen) and aerobic (with oxygen). We further clarify the difference with the following examples:

  • Anaerobic – weight training, tennis, bowling, sprints, etc.
  • Aerobic – jogging, swimming, machine cardio activity such as bike, stair master, elliptical, or treadmill. Further, aerobic activity is continuous motion for 20 minutes or more at an elevated and sustained heart rate.

So, we ask the question, do low carbohydrate diets impede performance in either type of exercise?

To answer the question, we will make the generalized statement that whatever type of nutrition dominates your diet is the one you will predominantly burn at rest and during exercise. If you eat a lot of carbohydrates, your body will learn to depend on carbohydrates. If your diet is low in carbohydrates, your body will adjust to depend more on fat. Please note there is an “adjustment period” to move to a fat dependent state that may last several days to a few weeks.

What Recent Studies Say About Low-Carb Exercise

In a recent study (Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:16), Swiss scientists fed cyclists and runners either a high-fat diet or a high-carb diet. Over five weeks the participants were measured regarding their power output and running times. Result: there were no adverse effects on glycogen stores or exercise performance.

In another study out of Copenhagen, scientists examined whether a low-carb diet that reduced glycogen stores would reduce the amount of energy that a muscle cell could form during exercise. Result: the low-carb diet did not negatively impact the ability of the metabolic intermediates to be expanded and used for energy.

In yet another Copenhagen study, it was confirmed that your body will predominantly utilize the nutrient you eat, even during exercise. Therefore, we may not really need as many carbohydrates as once thought to get through a workout.

We have grown overdependent on carbohydrates, which has cost us in our quest for wellness. Tweet Quote

By looking carefully at these studies, the data suggests we may have grown a bit overdependent on carbohydrates, which has costs us dearly in our eternal quest for wellness. However, if you are one who exercises intensely for 90 minutes or more continuous, there is certainly nothing wrong with sipping/drinking a few carbs during the session.

Carbohydrates are a major topic of discussion these days with questions being so polarizing as, “are they good or bad?” The answer resides in the type of carbohydrates. Maximal vegetables and a couple of fruits daily from the low glycemic variety will always yield positive health and exercise returns. On the other hand, it is always a good idea to avoid high glycemic foods, processed, and fried foods.

By employing this strategy in carbohydrate selection and based upon the data from our cited studies, it will not be long before your body will move from carbohydrate dependent to a fat burning machine. And, your health and workouts certainly will not suffer.