post-workout carbs

Post-Workout Carbs: Yes or No?

With the popularity of low-carb diets an important question is whether to eat carbs post-workout. For some, carbs are the holy grail of post-workout recovery. For others who shun carbs, having them at all seems like a bad idea.

In fact, research shows that most people will benefit from consuming carbs after training.

This answer might surprise you since research consistently shows that carbohydrate consumption is not necessary for muscle building as long as you consume at least 20 grams of high-quality protein after training. Many people in the bodybuilding world think that it is necessary to add carbs to protein in order to spike insulin, but this is nonsense because the BCAAs in high-quality protein trigger a large release of insulin.

The real reasons you should include carbs after training are as follows:

#1: Muscles Are Sensitive To Insulin After Training

Post-workout is the best time of day to get carbs because your muscles will be super sensitive to insulin. When you are hanging out on the couch, extra calories from carbs will be turned into fat, but post-workout they will be stored as glycogen—a fuel source for the muscle.

#2: Post-Workout Carbs Lower Cortisol

The hormone cortisol is released in response to physical stress. Its purpose is to mobilize fuel stores from tissue to keep you going during stressful times when blood sugar levels begin to drop. Intense training typically raises cortisol, which is fine because it enables you to power through a tough workout and helps burn body fat. However, once you’re done training, you want cortisol to go down. Carbs help by raising blood sugar and insulin (a cortisol antagonist, meaning that when insulin goes up, cortisol goes down).

#3: Carbs Improve Glycogen Replenishment

Glycogen is the fuel source for your muscles. Carbohydrates are the fuel source for glycogen. Training on low glycogen stores is very challenging mentally and leads to reduced performance. For athletes who are competing in a tournament over the course of a weekend, glycogen replenishment is a priority. Having carbs post-workout a no-brainer.

#4: Antioxidant-Rich Carbs Help Counter Muscle Damage

Intense training, especially if it has an eccentric component, leads to muscle damage. Muscle damage causes severe post-workout muscle soreness. It also leads to strength loss and impairs athletic performance. This is a huge problem for anyone who likes to train hard on the regular.

Certain carbs that are rich in antioxidants can help counter muscle soreness and promote recovery. For example, blueberries and tart cherries improve the removal of waste products for less muscle soreness and faster return to baseline strength levels. Leafy greens, dark chocolate, and sweet potatoes are other antioxidant-rich carbs that may enhance recovery when consumed post-workout.

The big question is how many carbs should you eat post-workout?

The answer will depend on a number of factors including body composition, genetics, goals, training volume, gender, and preferences. To simplify things, here are general guidelines for determining the optimal post-workout carb intake

If Your Goal Is Fat Loss & You Are On A Low-Carb Diet

Let’s assume you are eating 50 grams of carbs a day in addition to low-carb green vegetables. Try one of two things: Have all your 50 grams of carbs in your post-workout meal, or split your carbs between post-workout and dinner, having 25 grams at each. Obviously, 25 grams is not much. The question you need to answer is if you prefer to eat a larger serving all at once or spread your carbs out?

You’re going to get more out of your carb allotment from whole food carbs. Fruit, starchy vegetables, or boiled grains are all better options than refined carbs. Here are estimates of some favorite whole food carbohydrates to get you started:

1 medium sized apple or banana = 25 g carbs each

1 cup of grapes = 25 g carbs

2 cups of strawberries = 25 g carbs

1 cup sweet potato = 25 g of carbs

1/2 cup of rice, buckwheat, or quinoa = about 25 g of carbs

If Your Goal Is Maintenance & You’re On A Moderate-Carb Diet

If your goal is to maintain your current physique and you’re on a moderate-carb diet in the range of 150 grams a day, split your carbs between post-workout and dinner, eating about 75 grams at each. Combined with at least 20 grams of high-quality protein this will ensure maximal protein synthesis. Choose whole food carbs because they are more nutrient-dense and contain fiber for a better blood sugar response and greater satiety.

If Your Goal Is Glycogen Restoration For High Volume Exercise

If you’re on a higher carb diet and need to ensure glycogen replenishment to train multiple times a day, you have a range of options when it comes to post-workout carb intake.

A dose of 0.8 to 1.5 g/kg of body weight of carbs taken with protein (0.2 to 0.5 g/kg) will ensure glycogen re-synthesis. A study of endurance athletes found that 80 g of carbs with 28 g of protein was more effective for glycogen restoration than a carb supplement without protein. Typically, simple carbs are recommended for twice-a-day training: Carb supplements, pineapple or grape juice added to protein powder, or other fast-digesting carb foods are all acceptable.

 

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