Lose Weight: Eat the RIGHT Carbs at the RIGHT Time!

By on August 7, 2011

Finding it hard to shift weight even though you’re training hard?

You could be eating the wrong carbs at the wrong time – let’s take a closer look:

Carbohydrates or ‘sugars’ are your prime source of energy when you ride a bike.  But unlike fat, carbohydrate stores run out and you need to continually replenish carbs (in the form of glycogen in your liver and muscles) both during and after a bike ride.

Carbohydrates are rated against the GI Index. Briefly, the GI index is a rating of how quickly a carbohydrate can raise your blood sugar levels, as compared to Glucose – the simplest form of sugar:  measured from 1-100 (100 being 100% Glucose).

An example of some common sources of carbs categorised by GI Index:

  • High GI Carbs: Glucose/cornflakes/honey/whole meal bread/white and brown rice/new potatoes…
  • Moderately High GI Carbs: corn/all-bran/chips/peas/oatmeal/pasta/sweet potatoes…
  • Low GI Carbs: Apples/butter beans/kidney beans/fructose/peanuts/oranges/lentils…

Carbohydrates are not all equal:

Although high GI carbs get the sugar into your bloodstream quickly, they tend to convert to fat readily if you ingest too much in one sitting.  So, if you eat too much rice, pasta, bread or potatoes for dinner, the rest will be stored readily as fat on your hips and abdomen – not good if you’re looking to lose weight.

Moreover, continually eating high GI carbs tends to be fatiguing on your system.  You’ll feel sluggish throughout the day because of the constant surge and fall of sugar levels.

Also, eating highly processed ‘sugary’ carbs contributes towards obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and of course diabetes – so make sure when you eat a high GI carb it is at least nutritious, not full of ‘empty calories’.

On the other hand, moderate to low GI carbs release sugar into your bloodstream relatively slowly.  The advantage of slow release sugars is it sustains your energies for longer because it keeps blood sugar levels constant.

By eating low GI foods you feel ‘fuller’ and will be tempted to snack less during the day.  Now, this isn’t to say that low GI carbs won’t turn to fat if there’s a surplus, but it’s less likely due to the slower rate of release into the bloodstream.

An important reason to eat low GI carbs is they help reduce cholesterol, help prevent diabetes and helps you sustain your energies on and off the bike – which in turn  better helps us manage our weight.

Timing of carb ingestion is everything:

But that’s not to say all high GI foods are bad for you!  The key is in the TIMING of when you eat your carbs – and this is what you have to bear in mind when wanting the best out of your cycling and to lose weight!

When is it good to eat high GI carbs?

1.Immediately post bike ride:

If you’ve been for a long bike ride, it’s best practice to eat a healthy high GI snack as soon as you get off the bike.  The fast sugar from say cereal and/or wholegrain bread will help restore glycogen into your liver and muscles – aiding the recovery process.

Note: eating a little fat and protein with this snack will help slow the passage of food into the intestine – ‘reducing’ the Glycemic Index of your ingested carbs.

Research has shown that eating a healthy high GI snack (preferably, as we’ve just mentioned, with a little fat and protein) 15 minutes after a bike ride significantly increases the uptake of glycogen into the muscles and liver, as compared to ingesting it much later in the day.

Note there is a difference between a snack and a meal!  A snack is small volume of food, so the amount of high GI carbs you ingest should all go to helping you recover your glycogen stores.

2. The night before an endurance cycle event:

You can also eat moderate to high GI carbs like pasta and rice the night before a long distance event.  ‘Stocking up’ on carbs the night before a big endurance challenge is important.  BUT, remember to not get into a habit of eating pasta each evening after every bike ride.

For example, if you’ve gone out for a short 1 ½ hour bike ride you don’t need to load up on a heap of pasta, chips/potatoes and bread for your evening meal/or lunch.  If you do, remember the surplus carbs converts readily to fat!

Also, because your metabolism slows overnight, any surplus carbs will readily turn to fat more than any time of day – so, cut back on the amount of starchy foods you eat in the evenings and base evening meals around good lean sources of protein and eat more low GI carbs like your veggies!

When is it good to eat moderate to low GI carbs?


Moderate to low Gi carbs like oats are one of the best foods you can eat as a cyclist.  Eating a bowl of oats with some protein, will provide you with energy that will last well into your bike ride.   If you’re trying to lose weight then eating a solid breakfast will curb your need to snack later on in the day.

Never skip your breakfast in an attempt to lose weight!  All you wind up doing is picking mid morning and all the way throughout the day.  You end up eating more calories overall than if you had a king breakfast in the first place!

2. At all other times:

For all other meals and snacks, look to eat moderate to low GI carbs throughout the day.  In fact, you should eat a king breakfast, followed by a smaller lunch, followed by an even smaller evening meal… with healthy snacks in between – that makes 5-6 ‘eatings’ a day.

Final words:

If you’re struggling to lose weight it could be down to the carbohydrates you’re eating.  Check whether they are high, moderate or low GI carbs – then check when you’re ingesting them?  Could you be eating hidden calories after bike rides by eating too big a snack, or eating too much pasta too often each night?

Perhaps you’re eating too many sweet things and simply need to substitute to alternative low GI carbs that will fill you up for longer.  Either way enjoy your food – but watch how ‘much’ and ‘when’ you eat your carbs!  Bonne appetite!

Source of reference: Sports and Exercise Nutrition, W.D McArdle, F. I Katch, V. Katch, p217.

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