It's commonly understood that your body requires a surge of amino acids post-workout to aid recovery and help your muscles grow. What most people do not know is the most effective way to achieve a fast intake of amino acids is to pair it with carbohydrates! Specifically fast carbs that are high on the Glycemic Index (GI). Before your lunge for that bag of chips in the name of supplementation, here are some key things you need to know about integrating carbs into your post-workout meal, as well as the best carbs to consume.
Photo credit: bodybuilding.com
WHY EAT CARBS POST-WORKOUT
Following a hard workout, your muscles are severely depleted of glucose (usable energy) and glycogen (stored energy) for energy. As these deplete the hormone cortisol is released, this is your body's 'stress' hormone and it has very catabolic effects. What cortisol does is eat up muscle tissue for protein and convert it into glucose, resulting in a loss of muscle! The way to counteract this and maintain your gains is by eating carbs that quickly boost your insulin levels.
GOOD SOURCES FOR POST-WORKOUT CARBS
So, whey protein is your best protein source at this time because it is absorbed quickly, what is the best carbohydrate source? Well, we want a high glycemic carbohydrate source. The Glycemic Index is a measure of how quickly a food raises blood sugar and hence insulin levels. Normally, it is best to eat lower glycemic foods so as not to initiate an insulin spike (55 and under rates as low). But post-workout, the exact opposite is true, it is critical to get the carbs (and protein) to the muscle cells as fast as possible as it will help to drive nutrients into the muscle cells.
Dextrose - also known as glucose, is one of the more common carbs used in post workout shakes. It has a GI rating of 96 for a 50 gram portion making this an excellent post-workout carb.
Maltodextrin is actually a complex carbohydrate made from either corn, rice or potato starch, but its molecular chain is shorter than other complex carbs. As well, it consists of loosely bonded glucose molecules. And like dextrose, maltodextrin is absorbed directly through the gut. So it raises blood sugar and insulin levels as much as dextrose does.
While there are an array of fast carbs available on the market, abstain from those that contain purely fructose, like fruits or honey, as they don't directly hit your muscles like dextrose does. It typically has to bypass the liver before being converted into glucose, making it a waste.
HOW MUCH CARBS SHOULD YOU TAKE
Optimally, your post-workout carb to protein ratio should be 2:1. Weight and training intensity are two factors that play a role here. Most sources suggest .25 (cutting) to .50 (mass gaining) per pound of lean body mass. So if you have a lean body mass of 170 lb, this would mean 42 grams of carbs and 21 grams of protein if you are cutting, and 85 grams of carbs and 43 grams of protein if you are in a mass gaining cycle. Post-workout carbs and protein should ideally be consumed within half an hour of your workout.
Post-workout recovery starts with carbs and proteins and there are a multitude of supplement options available to quickly and conveniently get your nutrients in before you go for your next meal. For those looking to gain mass and size, Mass Gainers typically have high carb contents making them a great all-in-one post-workout recovery shake!
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