So you’ve just got home from the gym and it’s time to replenish your muscles with the energy that it needs to kick-start recovery. You might have heard that after a tough workout your body acts like a sponge and soaks up everything you can throw at it. This isn’t quite true. The average persons body stores 100g of glycogen (derived from carbs) in the liver and about 400g in the muscles. During a tough workout approximately 25% of muscle glycogen is depleted, so you’re left with a 100g deficit. Because muscles are so good at preserving muscle glycogen, it can be easy to overeat on carbs post-workout! I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “everything in moderation...”.
25% of total muscle glycogen is used up during a tough workout which seems surprisingly low, especially when you’re a sweaty mess and feel like you’ve used it all because you can barely move! This is because carbs aren’t the only energy source at work here. 20-30% of energy can come from burning fat, which is never a bad thing! It takes the body roughly 24 hours to replenish muscle glycogen from a normal diet – that’s one that doesn’t utilise post-workout carbohydrates. This means that you have plenty of time to get your daily carbohydrates in, and might even give you the chance to equally spread your carb intake throughout the day, giving yourself more pre-workout carbs, rather than having to save them up for after your workout. This can help you stay fuller between meals and could help reduce insulin spikes due to carbs being spaced throughout your day.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t consume carbohydrates after your workouts, post-workout carbs definitely have their place – simply that you shouldn’t eat excessive quantities, thinking that you can eat what you like because you’ve just exercised. Because approximately 100g of muscle glycogen is lost, this means that you could have a banana – a fraction of your lost muscle glycogen (20-30g) – to serve as a kick-start to muscle recovery. Throughout the day the rest of your lost muscle glycogen will continue to replenish itself as you eat your food and you’ll be back up to 100%.
If you’re performing more than one workout per day (why?!) then this changes things a bit. For example if you’re doing hill-sprints for football training in the morning and then a strength session in the evening then this is where you might need a slightly larger intake of carbs post-workout (70-80g carbs), so that you’re back up to 400g of muscle glycogen before you perform your strength session in the evening. Of course this isn’t necessary, but it will ensure that your muscles are readily fuelled for the next exercise session.