Good Carbs Give Your Workouts a Boost

Canadian fitness expert Brendan Brazier, author of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimum Performance in Sports and Life, strives to fill his diet with foods for optimum fitness. Here, he fills us in on good carbohydrates that will boost your workouts.

Q: What’s the difference between good carbs and bad carbs?

A: Bad carbs are anything coming from highly refined sources. Some people call sugar a bad carb, but I don’t think it is if it’s from a good source. Sugar can be a great source of energy when it comes from fruit, like dates and bananas. But I would also eat those things with protein and fiber, which will slow down the rate at which the sugar enters the bloodstream. This prevents a sugar spike, followed by a crash. That’s why smoothies are really good; you blend things with hemp protein or flax and other things that have fibre and essential fats.

Good carbs come from good sources. Cereal grains are great — things like amaranth, quinoa, wild rice and buckwheat are gluten-free and around 20 to 25 percent protein. And, since they’re seeds, you can sprout them and that’s the best way to eat them.

Q: What role do carbs play in physical fitness?

A: Carbs are essential; they’re the fuel and protein is the building block, which is why you need to consume protein after you work out as it helps your body recover. Carbs are what your body and brain burn, and so they need carbs to function efficiently.

Q: Which carbs are best for physical fitness?

A: Bananas, apples and any other easily digestible fruit. I make a sports drink that has sprouted whole-grain brown rice in it, which is really good. Palm nectar is another one.

Q: What about things like pasta and bread that people sometimes load up on before they run a marathon?

A: I’m not a big fan of that as they’re complex carbohydrates and I think people overdo them. Starch has to be turned into sugar before it can be used by the body, and that’s extra work for the body to do. If you just eat fruit, you’re a step ahead. Pasta is highly refined and often tough to digest. It’s a low-net gain food because it takes a lot of energy to process for very little in return.

Q: So you’re better off eating a giant bowl of fruit salad than 10 sandwiches before a big race?

A: Absolutely.

Q: Do carbs play a role in recovery?

A: Yes. Right after a workout, a good ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 4:1, meaning you should have four times the amount of carbs as you would protein. Some protein is important immediately after — and especially a couple of hours after — but you definitely want some carbohydrates, which help replenish glycogen (a stored carbohydrate) in the muscles.