Before their training, strength athletes often eat food that is rich in carbohydrates, such as pasta and bread. However, Wageningen research has demonstrated that this does not cause muscles to react differently during training.
Athletes are scrupulous about their nutrition to get the most out of their training and perform optimally. This is not just about what they eat on the day of competition, but also during their training days. ‘For example, we know that if endurance athletes sometimes take a low-carb meal before training, it can improve their performance in the long term’, explains Marco Mensink of Human Nutrition at WUR. This causes the muscles to react better to the training and to recover more quickly. ‘But very little is known about the influence of carbohydrates during training in strength training.’
Pim Knuiman, PhD candidate at WUR, and his colleagues at Radboudumc Nijmegen and High Performance Centre Papendal investigated the role of carbohydrate intake in strength athletes. The subjects, thirteen fit men in their twenties, worked through a strength training on two separate days. In the morning, they had to cycle for 90 minutes. Mensink: ‘The muscles contain a glycogen storage; these are stored carbs that serve as an energy source. That storage can last for a maximum of an hour and a half. This way, you make sure that everyone starts at the same low level of carbs.’
Afterwards, the men were given a meal and did their strength training in the afternoon. Prior to one of the trainings, the meal consisted of high carbs and low fats, while the other meal, 12 days later, consisted of low carbs and high fats. Both meals contained the same amount of energy and proteins.
Before and after the trainings, the scientists took small samples of muscle tissue to determine how the muscles reacted to the training. They did not find any difference between the reactions to the meals with low and high carbs. Mensink: ‘This would mean that the idea that one needs to eat sufficient carbs before a strength training is mistaken. This underlines that protein intake is the most important nutritive aspect of strength training. A large plate of pasta isn’t necessary.’