Post Workout Carbs – What’s the Deal?

December 13th, 2009 by

I’ve read about some of the post-workout meals your clients seem to be permitted to have on the Lean Bodies Fitness forum. Can you explain your rationale for allowing that kind of freedom? It seems to go against much of the post-workout recommendations that are ‘standard’ to the fitness industry.

Ah yes, the post-workout meal; definitely something that my clients tend to enjoy more than they would with other trainers. There’s been a lot of talk in the print magazines, on the Internet, by supplement companies, etc. about the magic and the need for the perfect post-workout protein and carbohydrate combination and if you choose to ignore their recommendations, you’re sure to dramatically short change your muscle gain/fat loss results. Now, I’m certainly not going to say that I think the post-workout meal isn’t important as I think it is. I’m certainly not going to say that getting in some protein and carbohydrates shortly after your workout isn’t important because again, I think it is.

However, I think all the hoopla about dextrose, maltodextrin and even the newest ‘excitement’, waxy maize is just that … hooplah. Let me clarify that statement. I’m not saying these are poor post-workout carbohydrate options; I’m simply saying that regardless of the marketing behind either these things in isolation or in combination with other ingredients, they’re not necessary and in my opinion make no difference over the long term when you stop and look at the bigger picture. What do I mean by ‘bigger picture’? Tangible and measurable changes and improvements to your physique. After all, that’s what we’re training for right? Who cares if a certain protein and carbohydrate combination digests faster, replenishes glycogen more efficiently or even stimulates greater increases in muscle protein synthesis and greater reductions in muscle protein breakdown … if it doesn’t translate into more muscle over time.

So what’s the recommendation I give to clients? I give them a number of grams of carbohydrates to shoot for, a caloric limit not to exceed and add to keep it low fat and to not use fruit as their sole (some fruit is perfectly fine) carbohydrate of choice. And that’s it. Do you realize how many ‘fun’ carbohydrates fit into those specifications? Do I say it has to be a ‘wholesome’ food like potatoes, rice, oatmeal, etc? Nope. Anything you want that fits those aforementioned rules. Last summer for example I was using these low-fat ice cream sandwiches that I found randomly in the grocery store one day. My post-workout carbs during that phase were nice and high so I was having 4-5 of those after every workout. How awesome is that? And you know what? Absolutely no difference in recovery, progress, gains, fat loss, or any other parameter you can come up with. I’ll also add that this isn’t an n=1 experiment either. Every single one of my clients has this kind of carbohydrate freedom in the post-workout period, and everyone still makes significant, uninterrupted progress. It also has no negative effect on fat loss, regardless of how lean or not lean you are. You might think that once you’re lean and trying to get really lean that it’ll make more of a difference. I haven’t found this to be the case at all as all my competitor clients have this freedom as well, and it doesn’t change after they hit a certain bodyfat percentage. In the end, quantity trumps quality for the most part.

I realize this goes against the grain from much of what you may have read over the years. I used to be the same way and always had some kind of liquid carb or other basic carbohydrate post workout. But I learned that it simply didn’t matter either way provided I was eating protein and carbohydrates after I trained. In fact, while I never use liquid carbs anymore, I still quite often keep it simple and use something like flavoured rice cakes, bagels, etc. But I don’t have to. I have more freedom than that. Another benefit I’ve found with this inclusion into client programs is that it helps with overall dietary adherence since people can have a little fun food every time they workout if they so choose. An on-plan, guilt-free treat if you will.

Like I said, it makes no difference. I’d encourage you to experiment for yourself. You’ll quickly see it’s more fun, and it makes no difference. If you’re one of those people that’s taking in some exotic post-workout product, ditch it, save some money and have a bit of fun with your post-workout carbs. Ditch the BCAAs, ditch the dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy maize, etc. Give it some time and I’d welcome your feedback … when you tell me I’m right.