3 SECRETS to Eat Carbs at the Right Time

By: Brian St. Pierre, CSCS, CISSN

Carbohydrates seem to be a very misunderstood macronutrient these days. There are some who believe consuming any carbohydrates will make you fat and unhealthy, while there are others who consume absolutely enormous amounts of carbohydrates, believing them to be the key to health. In reality the truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.

While carbohydrates are neither evil nor perfect, they can be an excellent choice to help you train harder and longer, and recover faster. Consuming some carbohydrates before and after your training can have some incredibly powerful benefits, which will help to maximize the results of your efforts.

Carbohydrates Before You Train

Purposeful consumption of carbohydrates 30-90 minutes before you exercise has two main benefits: to fuel your training as well as to preserve your muscle and liver glycogen, the latter of which is an important and underappreciated factor in the recovery process.  So if you don't eat a meal within 1-1.5 hours of your strength workout, it might be a good idea to consume a protein/carbohydrate shake prior to your workout.

If you have recently eaten a meal within 1-1.5 hours of working out then all you would need is a good protein-only shake to provide the necessary protein and branched chain amino acids for your workout. 

There is also another misconception that carbohydrate consumption is only beneficial for endurance activity that exceeds two hours in duration. Challenging that idea is an appreciable amount of research that shows carbohydrate consumption enhances high-intensity training lasting only an hour.

Consuming carbohydrates before training also stimulates the release of insulin, which in this case is a good thing. Insulin stimulates protein synthesis and prevents protein breakdown (in the presence of amino acids in the bloodstream). Protein synthesis and prevention of protein breakdown is maximized when insulin is within the range of 15-30mU/l.

This is roughly 3 times higher than normal fasting levels, and is easily met with a moderate-sized balanced meal or shake. In addition, blood levels of carbohydrates and insulin (as well as amino acids) are elevated above normal fasting levels for 3-6 hours after a meal, meaning that your pre-training carbohydrate intake will keep your insulin elevated within that maximal range until you are ready to eat again after you finish training.

Simply consuming 30-60 grams carbohydrates within 30-90 minutes before training will help you train hard, maintain your glycogen levels, and stimulate insulin to help maximize protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown.

Carbohydrates After You Train

While it is clear that consuming carbohydrates before you train will improve training performance and recovery, how about consumption after you train? Well, carbohydrate consumption after exercise will replenish the glycogen that was used up, as well keeping insulin elevated to maximize protein synthesis and inhibit protein breakdown (as long as adequate protein is also consumed).

Research has very clearly shown that consuming carbohydrates of any type after training will rapidly replenish glycogen, stimulate insulin, and improve performance in repeat tests. In fact, delaying intake for two hours after training can delay glycogen resynthesis, so it is best to consume within an hour of training completion.

Aim to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates within 60 minutes after you complete your training session to maximize your results. The amounts needed depend on the size and needs of the individual, as well as the duration and intensity of the training.

In the end, make sure you are fueling yourself properly before and after a workout to reap the greatest rewards from your efforts. This will help to fuel your session, spare and replenish glycogen levels, and stimulate insulin to maximize muscle protein synthesis and inhibit muscle protein breakdown.


About Mark

Hi, I'm Mark Dilworth, Nutritionist, Dietary Strategies Specialist, Nutrition for Metabolic Health Specialist and Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist. Since 2006, I have helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle habit changes which includes body transformation and ideal body weight.