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Carbohydrates before exercise or after exercise? This is what you should know about it!

Carbohydrates before training

Necessary knowledge for optimal carbohydrate intake

Important things about carbohydrates

The debate over proper pre-workout carbohydrate intake has made some heads spin. Before we explain why that is, however, we need to discuss some basics.

Carbohydrates play an important role in the provision of energy during athletic exertion. 

They are the primary source of energy for high-intensity loads.

Carbohydrates are stored in the form of glycogen in the muscles and liver.

The liver has a higher concentration of glycogen per kilogram of tissue. However, due to the higher mass in the body, the muscles still store more glycogen in absolute terms than the liver.

In numbers: 300-600g of glycogen can be stored by the muscles, 80-110g by the liver. [1]

However, the athlete primarily uses only the glycogen in the working muscles during training and competition, so the available stores are usually below the possible maximum.

Muscle glycogen

Muscle glycogen is responsible, among other things, for providing fast energy to working muscle.

How quickly the stored muscle glycogen is used up depends on the intensity of the load. During low to moderate loads, less glycogen is used than during very strenuous workouts. Nevertheless, there is a certain turnover of carbohydrates even during very relaxed training, but the majority of the energy then comes from oxidized fats, which are then used as the primary energy source.  Serve as a source of energy.

With increasing intensity, however, muscle glycogen becomes the most important energy supplier. Accordingly, it is also important that the glycogen stores are full. This is because muscle glycogen is used up particularly quickly during very intense exertion – and the stores can be depleted in a relatively short time.

Liver glycogen

The main function of liver glycogen is to keep blood glucose constant.

This is important because mental and physical performance is largely dependent on a constant blood glucose level. Chronically high or low blood glucose levels can lead to acute and/or long-term health problems. (e.g. diabetes)

For this reason, the task of the liver is very important. It is also often referred to as a “glucostat”. Together with the pancreas, therefore, the organ responsible, among other things, for the regulation of glucose concentration in the blood.

And this is how it happens:

  1. If the level of glucose in the blood (i.e. the blood sugar level) drops, the stored glycogen is broken down into glucose in the liver. This glucose is then released into the circulatory system – and blood glucose levels rise.

This process is stimulated by the hormone glucagon, which is released by the pancreas.

  1. If the glucose concentration in the blood is too high, the liver absorbs the glucose from the blood and thus forms glycogen. This can then be stored in the liver and muscles.

This process is stimulated by the hormone insulin. The pancreas also releases this.

For example, when a meal is consumed, blood glucose levels rise after the meal. In response, insulin levels rise, stimulating glucose uptake into the muscles and liver.

So the blood sugar level drops again.[1][4]

In summary, it looks like this:

blood sugar level

This process forms the basis of why there is so much discussion about pre-workout carbohydrate intake. [1]

The right carbohydrate intake before training

Proper pre-workout carbohydrate intake has long been controversial.

It was feared that too high a carbohydrate intake before training would result in too high an insulin secretion. This would then lead to a sharp drop in blood glucose concentration just before the start of training.

For this reason, athletes have often been advised not to consume carbohydrates before training.

However, this recommendation is outdated and no longer valid.

Even though this statement makes sense in theory, studies have not found any disadvantages of carbohydrate intake before training.

On the contrary, performance increases were measured.

What needs to be said about these studies: Some athletes were more sensitive to carbohydrate intake than others. Greater fluctuations in blood glucose were recorded here. [2]

Although no significant disadvantage could be found for these athletes either, for these “more sensitive” athletes, e.g. our  SLOW CARB   could be a good solution.

The carbohydrates from the  SLOW CARB  pass slowly into the blood, triggering a gentle response to blood glucose levels. So you don’t have to worry about too much blood sugar fluctuation before training.

Specifically, the recommendation today is to consume 2-3g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight 2-3 hours before an intense workout. 

For a 50kg athlete, this translates to 100g of carbohydrates 2 hours before training, or 150g of carbohydrates 3h before training.

It is essential to ensure that easily digestible carbohydrates are consumed. This helps to avoid digestive problems during exercise.

This could be, for example, a porridge (cooked with water) or 2-3 slices of spelt bread with honey.

On the other hand, those who prefer (or are forced by time constraints) to eat only 1h before training should consume about 1g of carbohydrates/kg body weight.[1]

Again, stick to easily digestible carbohydrates and avoid high amounts of proteins and/or fats. Fats and proteins can put too much strain on the digestive system in this case and lead to problems during training.

For this purpose, a carbohydrate bar such as our  PORRIGE BAR  or a banana would be suitable.

However, even with a good pre-workout carbohydrate intake, glycogen stores will deplete after a period of time during exercise. Therefore, it is important to supply carbohydrates even during training in order to continue to have enough energy.

Adjust your carbohydrate intake to your training goal

For training sessions lasting longer than one hour, it is generally recommended to add carbohydrates.

The easiest way to do this is to use sports products like our   FAST CARB   products.

FAST CARB is designed for intense sessions and allows high carbohydrate intake in a short time. In addition, the carbohydrate shake is particularly stomach-friendly due to the natural ingredients and thus allows you carefree training hours.

As far as quantity is concerned, guidelines are according to current findings from science and practice: 

For workouts lasting from one hour to a maximum of two hours, at least 30g of carbohydrates per hour should be supplied.

From a duration of 2h up to 2.5h 60g carbohydrates/h should be supplied. And from 2.5h quantities up to 90g/h are needed. [1]

However, the right food must take into account not only the duration of training, but also the training objective and intensity (according to the requirements depending on the sport).

This means for example concretely: For a workout that lasts 1.5h but is very intense, 30g carbohydrates per hour are too little. Likewise, an amount of 100g/h may well be necessary for extreme loads such as ultra-marathons.

So it is important to understand that these guidelines are not wrong at all, however they need to be adapted to the training and the sport.

To train successfully, training and nutrition must always work in the same direction.

Learn a lot of information about how your nutrition can support your training goals from top trainer Don Lorang and nutrition expert Robert Gorgos.  HERE.

However, one thing always applies: If you supply too little energy during training, hypoglycemia can occur.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) during exercise

As we know (now), the muscle needs a lot of energy to work – that is, a lot of carbohydrates.

During prolonged stresses it happens that due to the
scarce liver glycogen significantly more glucose from the musculature
is absorbed than can be released into the blood by the liver.

This results in the blood glucose level dropping further and further until hypoglycemia finally occurs.

When blood glucose levels fall below a critical value, the following occurs
it leads to a series of symptoms such as: Nausea, dizziness, reduced
Attention, concentration difficulty, increased heart rate,
loss of motor skills – and of course there is also a
Performance slump.[1]

It is not uncommon for athletes to be forced to end the race/training in such a case. But as described, this can be prevented by the right carbohydrate intake before and during training.

Carbohydrates are so important after training

Carbohydrates also play an important role after training. It has been widely confirmed that carbohydrate intake within one hour of exercise can significantly improve post-exercise performance. [3]

This hour after the training is also called “open window”. During this time, the body is particularly receptive to the nutrients supplied.

If you use this window to supply carbohydrates, this helps the regeneration as well as the processing of the training stimulus. And it also supports the immune system, which reduces susceptibility to infections, for example.

Similarly, carbohydrate intake after exercise can counteract overtraining.

However, in addition to carbohydrates after training,proteinsare also    necessary. 

The optimal amount is considered to be the combination of 0.8g carbohydrates/kg bw and 0.2-0.4g proteins per kg body weight. [2]

Now athletes often have the problem that directly after strenuous workouts lack appetite. This problem can be solved by taking sports drinks or shakes.

This facilitates carbohydrate and protein intake after exercise and also replenishes mineral and fluid balance.

Our  RECOVERY SHAKE   for example, provides the optimal combination of carbohydrates and proteins – and is the standard drink of many top athletes after their daily sessions. In addition, it offers specific amino acids (L-glutamine, L-leucine) for training adaptation and support of the immune system and through natural ingredients like  Organic cocoa   also valuable antioxidants. 

Note on carbohydrate intake in everyday life

So, as we have seen, carbohydrates are important for athletes before, during and after training. But not only immediately around the units.

Athletes should make sure to include plenty of carbohydrates in their daily routine as well. Comparatively high amounts of carbohydrates should be found in every meal.

This can prevent a general lack of energy – and the injury and illness breaks that come with it. Learn more about energy deficiency in sports HERE. We also reveal helpful tips on how to supply yourself with energy in everyday life in  THIS  article.

[1] A. Jeukendrup, M. Gleeson; Sport Nutrition,Third Edition.
[2] DOSB (German Olympic Sports Confederation, Competitive Sports Division) brochure “Food Supplements”, 1st edition June 2014.
[3] Tipton et al. Exercis, protein metabolism, and muscle growth
[4] Ibrahim Elmadfa, C. Leitzmann, Ernährung des Menschen; 6th ed.


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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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