Why You Shouldn't Avoid Carbs After Your Workout

Sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa are not just delicious but healthy, too. Rich in carbohydrates, these foods can power your workouts and provide steady energy throughout the day. That's why the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) and other organizations recommend filling up on carbs before exercise. What you may not know is that your body also needs carbs after training.

These nutrients are the primary source of energy in your diet, playing a key role in brain function, metabolism, muscle growth, and recovery. After ingestion, they are broken down into glucose and used for fuel (via Human Kinetics). Excess glucose is converted to glycogen and then stored in the liver and muscles. If your glycogen stores are already full, the excess energy is stored as fat. But if you are physically active and eat moderate amounts of carbs, your body will use them as an energy source.

With that being said, you shouldn't avoid carbs after your workout. On the contrary, it's recommended to fill up on white rice, fresh fruits, and other foods rich in simple carbs when you're done training. 

The role of post-workout carbs in recovery and performance

As mentioned earlier, carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Your liver can store up to 100 grams of glycogen, while your muscles can hold 300 to 400 grams, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN). Physical activity, especially strength training and high-intensity aerobic exercise, depletes your glycogen stores. This can lead to fatigue, diminished strength, and decreased endurance. If you wait too long to fuel your body, your performance may suffer in the long run. 

Post-workout carbs have the role to replenish your glycogen stores and speed up recovery from training (via the JISSN). As a result, they may reduce muscle damage and boost sports performance. Better yet, consume them along with a source of protein, such as poultry, lean beef, or eggs. This combo may improve body composition and muscular strength, reports the JISSN.

The International Sports Sciences Association recommends eating a high-carb meal during the first 60 minutes post-workout. Fill up on complex carbs, such as sweet potatoes or whole pasta, before exercise and switch to simple carbohydrates when you're done training. If you're short on time, go ahead and eat a protein bar after your workout. Low-fat chocolate milk and smoothies are a great choice too, says the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This is also a good time to drink a protein shake with honey, mashed bananas, or berries.