Should I eat carbs after a workout?


After planning and executing a workout—whether it’s an intricate HIIT set or a lengthy yoga session—sometimes the extra effort of planning how to reload an empty tank can seem more complicated than it really is.

You’ve probably heard that choosing the best post-workout snack has to do with its mix of macronutrients. However, there is some confusion about how to calibrate macronutrients, especially carbohydrates. You may have heard some discouraging post-workout carb consumption, but scientific research and expert opinion support eating carbs to boost post-workout recovery.

In short, eating carbs after a workout is a great idea. Read on to learn how, when and why you should use them.

Do You Need Carbs After Your Workout?

If you do a light workout, such as a quick walk or a lunch break stretch, you probably don’t need carbohydrates to fuel up afterward. However, if your exercise is more intense, it may deplete your glycogen stores — the body’s preferred source of energy for high-intensity activity.

When muscle glycogen is depleted, it causes muscle tissue to break down. To help the body recover and rebuild, eating carbohydrates is a must. “Post-workout carbs help the body release insulin, which restores glycogen stores just used during training,” says nutritionist and personal trainer Anthony DiMarino, RD, CPT, Eat Move Better.

Carbs do better when paired with protein. Protein and carbohydrates work together to increase the body’s rate of glycogen storage. 1

The Benefits of Post-Workout Carbs

Carbohydrates are a key macronutrient for exercise recovery. Here are four reasons you’ll feel good about jumping into a bowl of pasta or a plate of potatoes after a hard workout.

Carbs Help Prevent Post-Workout Fatigue

Since the body prefers to use glycogen for energy during periods of intense activity, you may feel like you’re running on smoke as you deplete your stored stores. Putting carbohydrates back into your system can help you recover faster and feel less tired.

Research also shows that eating carbohydrates after exercise leads to greater endurance in subsequent workouts. 2 A high-carb snack today could mean better performance tomorrow.

Carbohydrates help control blood sugar

Most forms of exercise cause blood sugar to drop. 3 To get your glucose black back, don’t hesitate to have a carb-rich snack. This prevents the unpleasant symptoms of hypoglycemia, such as shakiness, headache, brain fog, and rapid heart rate.

Carbohydrates Promote Muscle Recovery

You might think that protein is the only macronutrient that builds muscle, but carbohydrates have their own supportive role in muscle growth. Carbohydrates help amino acids (the building blocks of protein) reach muscles faster, promoting faster recovery and growth. They also help increase protein synthesis and reduce protein breakdown. 4

Carbs Help Lower Cortisol

Cortisol – often called the “stress hormone” – increases in response to low blood sugar. 5 When you replenish your carbohydrate stores to keep your blood sugar stable, it may have a knock-on effect of lowering your cortisol levels.

Carbs to Eat After a Workout

Now that you know carbs are A-OK after cooling down, you might be wondering: Are all carbs created equal when it comes to bothering after a workout? not completely. “Complex carbohydrates are best because they’re easily stored as glycogen,” says DiMarino. Foods that contain complex carbohydrates are those that are higher in fiber, such as whole grains, vegetables, beans, and potatoes.

That said, your digestive system may sometimes have issues with high-fiber foods right after intense exercise. “Simple carbohydrates may be better tolerated after a workout,” says DiMarino. “It’s important to test different combinations while training to see what works best for you.”

As for the optimal amount of carbs to eat, DiMarino offers the following guidelines: “A typical post-workout intake of 15-45 grams of carbs (higher after more strenuous workouts) is reasonable. A protein 3-4 carbohydrate ratio has been shown to be beneficial. This combination allows your body to recover by restoring depleted glycogen stores and repairing muscles damaged during exercise.

Post Workout Meals and Snacks

Consider mixing carbs and protein with these meals and snacks after a sweat:

·Whole Wheat Turkey Sandwich

· Cookies and Hummus

· Peanut Butter and Banana

· Greek yogurt and berry smoothie

·Tuna Salad with Apple and Almonds

How to Determine When to Eat Carbs After a Workout

To reap the benefits of carbohydrates after a workout, it’s important to consume them within a certain window of time. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends consuming carbohydrates within an hour of finishing an intense workout. 6 Just be aware of your tolerance for eating immediately after exercise; some people may prefer a full meal, while others feel best with a post-workout snack followed by a meal.

a word from Vail

Eating carbohydrates (combined with protein) after a workout is a healthy choice that promotes recovery, repairs and rebuilds muscle, and replenishes glycogen stores.

Meeting with a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition can also be very helpful if you want to optimize your post-workout meals and snacks. These professionals are trained in macronutrient-based meal planning for every type of physical activity, from strength training to endurance sports.

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