Bodybuilding 8 MIN READ 4263 VIEWS March 22, 2018

The Benefits of Eating Carbohydrates, Post Workout

Written By Latika Gupta

Carbohydrates and Bodybuilding share a love-hate relationship, but if combined well you may find - The Benefits of Eating Carbohydrates, Post Workout.

It is said that bodybuilding is 80% diet and 20% workout.

If one does not follow a strict diet, results of any amount of weight training and intensity training are short-lived. Ask anyone who trains in a gym and has a good body, he will stress the importance of a diet; and a proper diet and its benefits in the long run. The food you consume makes you who you are, choose them wisely. Proper planning of food intake in terms of calorie consumption, in terms of nutrients consumed, an adequate amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrates help you build strong muscles and a fit body. A strong body can be achieved only with the clarity of mind and proper adherence to a strict and proper diet.

Ideally, food consumption during workouts can be categorized into two – pre-workout and post workout meals. Today, we will be addressing post-workout consumption of food along with answering why carbohydrates should be consumed after a workout session and an in-depth analysis of carbohydrates and their role in metabolism immediately after an intense workout session. 

We will also discuss in depth what kind of workouts qualify for a post-workout carbohydrate treat. This is mainly for weight training, interval, and endurance training that last for 45 minutes or longer. Casual exercises like walking the dog, moving furniture at home, or riding your bike to the arcade don’t require these sorts of replenishments and do not qualify for the same.

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Two ideal times to consume carbohydrates is after you wake up in the morning and post workout.

Why should we consume carbohydrates after these two situations would be the first question that comes to our mind? Once you wake up in the morning, you are coming out of a ‘fast’ i.e. you have not eaten in the last 10-12 hours and this calls for simple carbohydrate source and quick digesting protein source. This is because early in the morning, the digestive action of many gut enzymes have a slower pace and are fewer in number. One should consider this whilst choosing breakfast options. 

But this morning carbohydrate intake should not be taken before doing cardio. Running on a treadmill burns fats and carbohydrates, both. So, fewer the carbohydrates in your system, less insulin level, which will lead to burning of fat. In an ideal situation, swap those carbohydrates with amino acids to boost overall strength and recovery. 

The next scenario is post workout, the reason why it is suggested to intake simple carbs post workout is that; after a hard workout, the body gets depleted of glycogen and glucose. To start the recovery and muscle building process it is essential that carbohydrates are taken. During the workout, muscles use glucose in the form of usable energy and glycogen which is the stored energy. After a point, the levels of these two go so low that exercise cannot be continued.

Once this happens, if one continues to exert their muscles, a hormone called cortisol gets secreted which has very catabolic effects and is called the ‘stress hormones’ for a reason. The body devoid of glucose starts eating up muscle tissues to produce glucose in a process called gluconeogenesis due to cortisol secretion. The result of this process is a loss of muscle tissue. So after hours of work-out, you get the negative effect resulting in loss of muscle tissue rather than gaining them. This is why diet and systematic approach towards muscle building are required in the first place rather than just mere physical exertion.

If you intake carbohydrates post work out you can avoid the body undergoing this process of gluconeogenesis as glycogen and glucose are provided through simple carbohydrates and helps in muscle building and recovery. It also allows insulin secretion which as you might know is an anabolic hormone caused due to the intake of protein source along with the carbs.

So for this to happen, one should intake high glycemic, fast digesting carbohydrates. Let us see what these high glycemic carbohydrates are, first.

The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a particular food raises blood sugar level, which eventually leads to insulin release in the bloodstream. Usually, it is preferred to consume foods of low glycemic index value so as to not initiate a spike in the insulin levels of a person but in the case of post workout, the opposite is preferred. We need the insulin levels to be elevated so as to make the carbs reach to the muscle cells as fast as possible after any strenuous workout. This will also help in driving other nutrients to the muscles.

Let us also try and understand the types of carbohydrates and which ones are high glycemic and fast digesting.

Simple Carbohydrate

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These are naturally present as simple sugars and mainly occur in fruits and milk and in some other food items. Two main types of sugars are monosaccharides (mono means one; basically comprising of one sugar molecule) and disaccharides (di means two; basically comprising of two sugar molecules).

Let us see some examples of both sugars.


1. Fructose – commonly known as fruit sugar and has a glycemic index of 11 for a 25-gram portion which in turn means that it won’t be digested quickly and will not be able to raise the insulin level to the degree required post an intense workout session. Also because of its structure, it cannot be directly turned into muscle glycogen and cannot be absorbed directly into the bloodstream and has to travel through the liver first for a complex breakdown of the glucose chain.

2. Dextrose – commonly known as glucose with a glycemic index of 96 for a 50-gram portion and is one of the more common choices post workout session. But for some people, this has given an inverse result which causes spillover effect where basically fat gain happens and thus this is suggested but should be more of an individual choice as the post workout carbohydrate. Test it and know if dextrose works for you or not. 


1. Sucrose – commonly known as table sugar and has a molecule of glucose and fructose and rates 60 in glycemic index for a portion of 25 grams.

2. Lactose – commonly known as milk sugar and is mainly present in milk and milk products like cheese, butter etc. and has a rating of 48 for the 25-gram portion of the glycemic index.

Both of these are not good choices and lactose might not be suitable for a good percentage of people who are intolerant to lactose or has allergies to them.

Now let us see complex carbohydrates and whether any of them are suitable for our post-workout scenario.

Complex Carbohydrate

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Maltodextrin – This is a complex carb made from corn, rice or potato starch but has a smaller molecular chain than other complex carbohydrates. It also consists of loosely bond glucose molecules and like dextrose can be directly absorbed through the gut. It also raises blood sugar and insulin level in the same way as dextrose. But before this maltodextrin can be utilized by the body, for the glucose molecules in the compound to be broken down, it must first pass through the liver. This essentially causes slower glycogen replenishment compared to dextrose and will result in no fat gain like dextrose. But due to the slower replenishment, there won’t be any risk of a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels.

For best results a 50:50 portion of dextrose and Maltodextrin can give the best results for the post-workout carb intake. Why this combination? Dextrose, as you know, is a single sugar molecule and can raise a solution’s osmolarity which in effect slows gastric emptying. When combined with maltodextrin which is a processed form of complex carbohydrate allows quicker digestion, this essentially can result in optimum glucose replenishment, proper hydration, and the required performance. When consuming carbs, go with 20-60 grams of high-glycemic carbs after your workouts depending on your weight, goals, and the intensity and duration of the workout. Consider adding 5-10 grams of BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) post-workout to ensure maximal protein synthesis and further boost the insulin spike.

Some people worry that these consumptions can cause fat gain, which is not true. 

Post one’s workout, meals rich in carbohydrates definitely work around the repair of damaged muscle tissue and will not be stored as fat in the body. If you are on a diet and are cutting carbohydrates, cut them during other meals and have them only during the post-workout session. Another common worry among people is that carbs consumed after workout may result in lowering one’s growth hormones and testosterone levels, which is completely wrong as both of these peak during the workout, testosterone levels and growth hormones dip post workout and that is going to happen regardless if you eat anything or not, so you can stop worrying about that eventuality which is plummeting levels of hormones.

Proposed benefits of a good post-workout nutrition which includes a good protein source and a high glycemic fast digesting carbohydrates are:-

  • Improved recovery of muscles
  • Less muscle soreness, as glycogen gets replenished
  • Increased ability to build muscle
  • Improved immune functions
  • Improved bone mass and improved ability to utilize body fat.

For normal people who cannot afford protein powders, supplements, and carbohydrates, these are the combinations of simple available food they can try so as to get the same effect which may not cost as much as some of the supplements although if you are serious about it, that might be the way to go.

For carbohydrates, one can intake sweet potato, rice, rice cakes, potatoes, oatmeal, banana, kiwi and dark leafy vegetables. All are good sources which serve the same purpose as of dextrose and malt dextrin although not to that extent in terms of per capita consumption. For protein sources eggs, salmon, chicken, cottage cheese and tuna can be used as a substitute for protein powder or whey protein although whey protein works faster and better than these. These can also be part of a regular diet and can help in the better conditioning of the body. Hydration is something that should be emphasized more than everything. Proper intake of water at intervals is absolutely necessary for the body.

It is also important to be properly hydrated before and after the workout as intense loss of electrolytes is caused during the workout as sweat and it also needs to be replenished along with helping in the digestion of post workout food depending on the intensity of the training or workout regime. Preferably within 45 minutes to two hours the meals containing protein and complex carbohydrates should be taken as long it gets to replenish the lost amount, weaker the muscles will be, but never take a meal before 10-15 minutes post workout as body needs some time to acclimatize to the scenario and we have to make sure of that as well. Pre-workout food intake is also as important as consuming nutrients post workout. Treat your body and mind with equal importance, only intake good food rich in nutrients and avoid junk food, train well, stick to a diet, have a trainer and you can have a great body too!

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