The number one nutrition topic I hear among group fitness instructors, PTs and participants is that of carbohydrates. It seems everyone has an opinion about how much or how little needs to be consumed to maintain optimal nutrition. Discussions about carbohydrates being fattening is not uncommon and regularly I hear people suggest ‘drop the carbs to drop the weight’. It is true that a diet that omits or severely limits carbs will certainly trigger an initial weight loss. This is attributed to a loss of glycogen in the muscles, a drop in the body’s normal water content and unfortunately, a loss of some lean muscle tissue. This initial weight loss leads to a feeling of success and people naturally feel as though they are onto a good thing; that cutting carbs is the secret to weight loss. However, the body is clever at adapting and balancing things out and before you know it, the lost weight usually returns and is often accompanied by a few extra kilos.

Why are (the not so evil) Carbohydrates important?

Carbohydrates are critical when it comes to group fitness, training and sports performance.  It is the preferred source of energy for the muscle cells and for those wanting to increase muscle bulk, it’s the carbohydrates that promote protein retention and synthesis. A lack of sufficient carbohydrates makes exercise more difficult; this is because the muscle glycogen is depleted. By cutting carbs you are more likely to tire faster, your endurance will decrease and you are less likely to engage in regular, daily physical activity. It’s often people who follow low carb trends that suffer extreme fatigue after months of yo-yoing success.

For optimal nutrition it’s important that glucose provided from carbohydrates remains at a steady level throughout the day to avoid overloading the system, and that nutritious carbohydrates are consumed after exercise to aid recovery. Low GI Carbs, in portion-controlled quantities will help the system remain steady over the course of the day and help reduce feelings of fatigue experienced when accompanied with an exercise regime. Within half an hour after a cardio class such as RPM™ or BODYATTACK®, a more moderate to high GI carbohydrate source is beneficial for restoring glycogen stores.

A Typical Day

Let’s take a look at a realistic day for an instructor (or gym participant) that will support both training sessions and recovery. If you’re anything like me, a 5am wake up to teach is never easy and the thought of eating breakfast that early is enough to make most a little queasy. If you can identify with this, try half a banana or some diluted fruit juice (1 part juice, 3 parts water) to give you a little kick-start before your Les Mills class. After training it’s important to replenish fluids and glycogen stores. Carbohydrate consumption within the first half hour after a cardio work out is crucial; the other half of your banana or a few dried apricots can be eaten as you walk to your car. If you’ve been doing BODYPUMP®, protein intake is also important, a glass of skim milk is sufficient for most. That half hour window is when the body requires instant uptake to support muscle recovery and to replenish glycogen stores so lethargy and fatigue are kept to a minimum the next time you train.

Over the course of the day eat balanced meals. Fill half your plate with fresh fruit or vegetables, less than quarter with low GI carbohydrates, and less than quarter with lean, quality protein. The other small portion of the plate is a dash of healthy fat. At breakfast this may be a big bowl of fresh fruit, a dollop of natural yoghurt and a sprinkling of mixed nuts and seeds (chia seeds are great). Lunch may be wholegrain mountain bread packed with fresh salad vegetables, lean chicken and a spread of avocado. Dinner may be a large vegetable stir-fry with thinly sliced lean beef, tofu or prawns, with a scoop of basmati rice, soba noodles or quinoa. Reasonable snacks to be consumed around gym sessions include a small piece of fruit, a handful of raw nuts or dried fruit, or a banana smoothie made with skim milk, a sprinkle of cinnamon and a teaspoon of LSA. The smoothie will certainly fill you up until your next meal and help resist the urge to binge on a packet of biscuits!

So eat smart carbs to support your Group Fitness classes and training, and feel the difference in your recovery.

BY Lisa Simpson | Les Mills