Do I Need Carbs After My Workout?
If you look at most post workout dietary practices, you will find that they most often consist of carbohydrate consumption. It is thought that to fuel growth and recovery the body needs adequate carbohydrate intake. While it is true that carbohydrates can contribute to growth and recovery, they may not be as essential as the health industry likes to think.
When we exercise, we tend to deplete what is known as muscle glycogen. Glycogen is our bodies stored form of carbohydrates. Under conditions of increased metabolic need, our muscles can tap into their glycogen stores, breaking the glycogen down thus providing energy for the activity at hand. The level of glycogen depletion is dependent on the intensity of the exercise. The greater the intensity, the greater the degree of glycogen depletion.
Based on this understanding of exercise physiology, we can see why it would be reasonable to think that we need to consume carbohydrates post workout to make sure we replenish these precious glycogen stores. Couple this with the theory of the “anabolic window” and you have a recipe for massive amounts of carb consumption post workout.
What Does the Research Say?
Research has shown that whether consuming all of your carbs immediately post workout, or over the course of 24 hours after your workout, rates of glycogen resynthesize are similar. This conflicts with the theory of the anabolic window, stating that we must consume our recovery substrate within 20 minutes to an hour post workout. Furthermore, research has also demonstrated that individuals who workout and just consume water after their workout still reach near full replenishment of glycogen within 24 hours post workout. This means that you may not need carbohydrates post workout at all.
Of course, there can be some benefit to consuming carbohydrates post workout, but the point is that it is not essential. It is also worth noting that there are some cases where post workout carb consumption could be harmful. Research has indicated that following a resistance training workout in which high rates of muscle damage occur, our muscles actually become insulin resistant, meaning they have impaired carbohydrate uptake. This could lead to storing these carbohydrates in a manner most of us are not interested in. The take home message is that in most cases, carbohydrates are not required following a workout!