All of us know that we should be consuming protein-rich foods after a workout. We know that protein will form the building blocks of connective tissue and they help to form new connections and repair muscle after a workout – but what about carbohydrates?
Do carbs have a role to play in post-workout recovery?
If you asked any elite-level athlete you would always get a clear answer. Those who train for power, speed and high-performance know that carbohydrates are an essential element for post-workout recovery.
Just as protein helps to create a signal for muscle protein synthesis – allowing for faster recovery, carbohydrates help to resynthesize glycogen into the muscle and liver.
After all, glycogen is the main fuel source for exercise and without a steady supply of carbs in your diet, you will struggle to recover in time for your next strenuous workout program.
Concrete science will show that those who consume carbohydrates and protein following a workout will recover faster than those who consume protein alone.
If you on the quest for absolute strength and recovery here are some important elements you should consider for carbohydrate-rich post-workout recovery foods.
Elements of Post-Workout Carbs
No carbs are made the same. Both candy and whole-grain quinoa are considered carbohydrates but I think we can all agree that quinoa is much better for you.
Let’s take a look at the most important aspects to consider for carb-rich recovery foods.
1. Complex Carbs Provide High Fiber Content
An indigestible carbohydrate, fiber is not only important for regular digestion but it has also been shown to lower inflammation. This means you can stay regular, have healthier metabolism and lower the inflammation of soft tissue after exercise.
2. Carbohydrates Contain Plenty of Micronutrients
As a general rule of thumb, you should never be consuming empty calories. By this, I mean foods that contain little to no vitamins and minerals. Finding whole-grain carbs like oats, quinoa, buckwheat and others will contain a good source of essential vitamins and minerals that play important roles in recovery.
3. Consume Carbs with Higher Glucose Than Fructose
Although I am a huge advocate for fruit in your diet it is important to consider that your body will place more emphasis on muscle glycogen sourced from glucose and liver glycogen from fructose.
This is why it is important to place a larger emphasis on glucose-rich foods from starchy sources like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other grains rather than fruit.
Best Post-Workout Carbohydrate-Rich Foods
Now that we know what important aspects of carbs we should be looking for here are a simple breakdown of some of the best foods you should be eating after a workout to boost strength and recover faster.
The king of all carbs – oats should be a staple in your diet regardless of your fitness levels. Consuming around 300-400 calories from oatmeal after a workout will give you plenty of good, complex carbohydrates (read more about this here), high fibre content, good protein balance and a plethora of vitamins and minerals.
2. Dark Leafy Greens
Far too many of us don’t eat enough leafy greens. Foods like kale, spinach, mustard greens and collard greens will provide a wealth of vitamins, minerals, good protein content and a near-perfect spectrum of complex carbohydrates.
Eating leafy greens after a workout is a sure-fire recipe for success in the weight room.
3. Sweet Potato
My personal favourite post-workout food will always come with roasted sweet potatoes. They taste great, are filled with complex carbs and have a good amount of Leucine (an amino acid essential for recovery).
How Many Carbs Post-Workout?
This is a good question. Although it is common knowledge that 1g/kg of body weight (per day) is generally enough for protein content when it comes to carbs it really depends on the person’s activity levels and style of training.
If you’re the average gym-goer you’d probably see good benefits from a daily total of 3.5g/kg of body weight (around 100-150g post-workout).
With that said, those involved in serious sports and progressive training protocols should shoot for an average of 4-5g/kg of body weight per day (around 200-250g post-workout).
Sourcing your carbs from high-fibre, complex carbohydrates will only help to push your strength. Do not be concerned with weight gain. Your carb content will be heavily dependant on your bodies strength training and performance outcomes.
Keep it simple and make sure half your plate after a workout is sourced from complex carbs like the examples above.
Train hard, eat clean and watch as you grow stronger with a good source of complex carbohydrates in your diet.
Awesome stuff! Thanks for this! Going to start putting in more carbs to my post-workout meals.
Great idea! Remember, complex carbs will always be your best option for total Nutrition. Read our article on Carbohydrates for a detailed breakdown.