Carbohydrate Supplementation Before, During and After Exercise

BEFORE Exercise

Supplementing with carbohydrates before exercise will have its greatest effect and is really only needed if muscle glycogen stores are low as you begin exercising. Pre-exercise supplementation may not even be necessary if the workout is to last less than around 30 minutes. Similarly, if you have eaten carb rich food leading up to exercise, you may not need to supplement at this point.

Remember: supplementing is to add to our diet when that alone is insufficient. Try not to start replacing food with supplements.

A half-hour to an hour before training, consume around 45 grams of carbohydrates (more like 30 grams for someone weighing 160 lbs and more like 60 grams for someone weighing 230 lbs).

It appears that high, moderate or low glycemic index sugars are fine as long as the levels remain stable. Once you have started on high GI carbs you have to keep consuming them to avoid the infamous “crash” during your workout. Therefore, it is our opinion that moderate GI carbs are more suitable for this initial pre-workout phase.

DURING Exercise

Carbs During ExerciseDepending on the length of your workout, you may need to supplement as you go. A high intensity session, or one lasting over an hour may not be fuelled sufficiently by the pre-workout carbs you took. Furthermore, if you opted to go without a pre-workout supplement then it might be more important to get some in as you go. Eating food is not impossible during exercise but a carbohydrate drink is much more accessible, not to mention less messy!

This is where high-GI carbs are useful for fast replenishment of your glycogen stores. A drink containing maltodextrin should do fine here. Again somewhere either side of 45 grams per hour of exercise will work. Too much and you could get an upset stomach.

A little protein or branched chain amino acid powder in the same drink mix will go a long way to reducing your exercise induced catabolism as well. We say 5 grams of BCAAs or 10-15 grams whey protein isolate should do the trick.

AFTER Exercise

The post-workout window is critical for replenishing nutrients. If ever there were serious gains to be made from training, it’s in the recovery period.

During the first 30 minutes to an hour after a workout our bodies are primed for the replenishment of glycogen stores and it is absolutely key to get it right during this period of time to be able to bounce back fully the next day. If this window is missed, it will take much longer to recover completely enough to exercise at full potential again.

After exercise, the muscles are also ready to synthesize protein and the mechanisms for amino acid transport and nutrient partitioning (insulin sensitivity) are intensified. A combination of protein and carbohydrates will work synergistically to improve muscle repair, decrease catabolism (muscle breakdown) and replenish glycogen stores.

Obviously, specific needs will depend on the person but the below indicators might help when you have your scoops ready to fill your shaker cup. This is for within the 2 hours immediately after exercise.

Exercise Intensity | Low to med | Med to high | High | Bodybuilding
Protein (g)                      5-20            20-30        30-40        40-50
Carbs (g)                       30-40          40-60         60-80       80-100

NOTE: The above quantities of protein and carbohydrate supplements would ideally be consumed as soon after training as possible.