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Importance of Carbs Post Workout

There is a lot of information on the web to sift through or self educate with. While there is always an abundance of great info, there is also a ton of GARBAGE that is opinion based and not research based. I did some of the leg work for you here on two subjects I get asked about all the time. Below is a compilation from two industry experts that I respect and their research is very much in line with my experience and studies.

Achieving a Healthy Lean Physique and Increasing Performance are two passions of mine. We all know the importance of proper food as fuel, but how aware are you about what happens in the body after high intensity exercise, and the window of opportunity to maximize it your efforts.

 

Part 1: An awesome article written by Sports Nutritionist Rob Sulaver on Why carbs/Protein are crucial post workout.

Part I:  By Rob Sulaver

We’ve all heard about the importance of exercise when it comes to weight-management. You gotta do it. It’s essential. The body needs it. But most of us tend to think of exercise as cranking up calorie burn. We return to our calories-in-calories-out equation and think that exercise amps up the out-calories and therefore we lose weight. This is absolutely true. Exercise does help balance the calorie math in favor of leanness. However, when we work out there are far more magical things at play.

 Why is exercise a game-changer when it comes to carbs?

Most of the day, our energy fluxes are moderated by insulin. A quick reminder of our bilingual equation:

Más carbs = Más blood sugar.  

Más blood sugar = Más insulin.  

Más insulin = Más fat storage.  

However, during intense exercise the body doesn’t give a damn about insulin. In fact, despite a significant increase in our need for energy (and specifically glucose), insulin actually decreases (1).

WHOA, WHOA, WHOA. W.T.F. 

But Rob...insulin is the hormone that tells our body to remove sugar from the blood and use it as energy.

Yep. Except during intense exercise. 

Allow me to formally introduce you to catecholamines.   

Catecholamines are hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands.  You’ve probably heard of the more famous ones - adrenaline (epinephrine), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), and dopamine. 

Catecholamines are released during our primitive fight-or-flight response, but the physiological response during intense exercise is similar (and I do mean intense - a long slow jog isn’t going to make this magic happen - you’ve gotta be working at an 8ish outta 10 on your damn-this-is-tough scale.)  When that happens, our body dumps these hormones into our system and they trump our insulin command.       

The games has changed.  We now have a completely difference coach.  Catecholamines are at the helm calling the shots, regulating our energy influx and outflux with extreme precision.  It’s awesome.    

- We’re working our little tooshes off

- We’re burning a boat-load of calories

- These calories aren’t being regulated by our insulin levels

This is good news because it means we don’t need to carb up before an intense workout. In fact, carbing up an hour before a workout has been shown to reduce liver glucose output and fat oxidation (2) (3). No bueno if we’re trying to get lean.

But other, even MORE magical things are happening...

Allow me to formally introduce you to Lipoprotein Lipoase.

Simultaneously, during all this good stuff, during this exercise our body starts to shift a little enzyme called Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL.)  These little fellas are the gatekeeper for fat accumulation.  It’s an enzyme that hangs out outside cells, sorta like a bouncer.  If it’s hanging out outside a muscle cell, it’ll pull fat into the muscle.  If it’s hanging out outside of a fat cell, it’ll pull fat into the, um, fat. (4)   

So, intense exercise shifts LPL activity from fat cells to muscles cells.  In other words, our muscles become primed to burn fat.  Now to be fair, we don’t burn a whole lot of fat during high intensity exercise.  We burn carbs.  But, as you can probably imagine, shifting this fat crushing enzyme to our muscles and away from our fat makes a big difference when it comes to helping us get shredded.

OK.  Let’s summarize again...

- We’re working our little tooshes off

- We’re burning a boat-load of calories

- These calories aren’t being regulated by our insulin levels

- We shift our muscles into fat burning mode

- We shift our fat away from fat storing mode

For the record...at this point, we’re definitely winning. 

OKAY, OKAY...WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Well then....we stop.  ‘Cause hey...you can’t do high intensity exercise forever, right?

Now....

The catecholamines disappear (the half life of these suckers is a few minutes, max.)  Insulin becomes the driving force behind our energy flux again.  Our muscles are hungry and want to be fed whatever they can eat and our fat storage is basically turned off (4).

What’s a lovely thing to do at this point?? 

Feed your body carbs.

Yep.  Your body is in a perfect place to utilize carbs.  You feed those hungry muscles without storing energy as fat. An influx of carbs will spike your insulin which will drive glycogen into your muscles and get you all prepped for your next intense workout. Plus, this carb/insulin spike helps with a cascade effect that returns your hormones to their happy pre-workout state, because while all those higher-stress hormones are great when you’re working out, you don’t want ‘em in your system all day.  Ya dig?      

Eating carbs post workout is part of a smart get-shredded nutrition plan.

A qualifier - this post workout carb window doesn’t last the rest of the day.  It lasts for about an hour.  After that, we start to lose out on the benefits of the carbohydrate awesomesauce.  

Another qualifier - The more depleted your muscles, ie the more intense your workout, the more carbs you can afford post workout.  Makes sense right...the more you lose, the more you can replenish.

 

  1. Galbo H: Hormonal and Metabolic Adaptation to Exercise. New York, Thieme-Stratton, 1983
  2. Volek JS. Influence of nutrition on responses to resistance training. Med Scho Sports Exerc 2004;36(4):689-696.
  3. Ivy JL, Res PT, Sprague RC, Widzer MO. Effect of ca carbohydrate-protein supplement on endurance performance during exercsie of varying intesnity. Int. J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2003;13:382-295.
  4. Ladu MJ, Kapsas H, Palmer WK. Regulation of lipoprotein lipase in muscle and adipose tissue during exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1991 Aug;71(2):404-9.
  5. Mead JR, Irvine SA, Ramji DP. Lipoprotein lipase: structure, function, regulation, and role in disease. J Mol Med (Berl). 2002 Dec;80(12):753-69. Epub 2002 Oct 24.

 

 

Part II: Article/Interview by Ori Hofmekler on the TIMING of WHEN we should consume our post workout nutrition.

 

CW: We all know that the few hours after training are important to maximize for muscle growth and fat loss. What’s the best approach to post-workout nutrition when a person is trying to add muscle without inhibiting fat loss?

Ori: The post-exercise period isn’t just your window of opportunity to build muscle, it’s also your ideal opportunity to burn fat.

What many people fail to understand is that exercise only initiates the first phase of fat breakdown; it does not grant the completion of the fat-burning process.

After exercise there’s a substantial increase in the level of circulating free fatting acids coming from adipose tissue, and unless these are mobilized to the liver and muscle for final utilization, most of them will be re-esterfied into triglycerides and re-deposited back in the fat tissues.

Yes, all your hard work to burn fat will be wasted!

In order to grant an effective completion of the fat-burning process you must manipulate your muscle to suck in the circulating free fatty acids that were released by exercise. And the way to do that is to wait for 30-60 minutes after exercise before having your recovery meal.

CW: So much for the notion that post-workout nutrition must begin as soon as the workout is finished.

Ori: Yes, by waiting 30-60 minutes it will give your body the time needed to remove circulating fatty acids for utilization and thus prevent re-deposit and build-up of fat in your adipose tissue.

CW: So why is the post-exercise period a person’s ideal window of opportunity to burn fat?

Ori: It’s because of empty glycogen reserves. Glycogen is your body’s most immediate and preferred fuel for survival activities, such as the fight or flight response. Hence, your body regards glycogen replenishment as a top survival priority. And that’s what happens after intense training: your body is forced to swiftly convert fatty acids into glucose, via gluconeogenesis, which are then used for glycogen replenishment in your muscle.

What this means is that fat breakdown and utilization reaches a peak, not during exercise, but right after exercise. Importantly, this process can only reach its peak in a fasting state. It will be utterly inhibited by carbohydrate feeding.

CW: So when is the best time to eat carbs in general? 

*****For my athletes, pay attention here, this “carb loading” is something we will work into your Fall prep plans closer to Tri Fitness Competition***** added by Liz

 Ori: The right time for eating carbohydrates is at night when the muscle is no longer insulin resistant like it is directly after training. For effective glycogen loading, eat slow-releasing complex carbs from whole plants the night before training or competition. Ideal sources are corn, quinoa and oatmeal.

With all that said, you still need to feed your muscle to grant repair and growth in the post-exercise period. And you need to do that without inhibiting the fat-burning process.

Therefore, you should use quality whey protein. This is your best bet. Quality whey protein not only nourishes your muscle with essential amino acids and bioactive immune-boosting nutrients, but it also promotes insulin sensitivity via peptides such as CCK and GLP-1. Importantly, insulin sensitivity is necessary for both muscle growth and fat burning.

 Liz’s Summarized version and suggestions:

  1. Post Workout carbs and protein in a 2:1 ratio is crucial to restore glycogen levels, hormone stabilization, repair damaged tissue, shuttle amino acids to muscles, instruct body to burn fat. Allows you to train back to back days and go hard!!
  2. Timing of when to do this, 30-45 minutes post exercise
  3. Get a high quality Whey/Soy complex protein . I solely use the AdvoCare Muscle Gain.

Written by Elisabeth Cort — August 05, 2013

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