Intra workout carbohydrates have gained popularity in the fitness world. You’re probably used to fuelling before and after a workout, but may be new to the idea of fuelling during your session. Depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, this might be worth a try.
The rationale behind intra workout carbohydrates is to replenish muscle glycogen, our body’s primary source of energy during exercise, which becomes depleted as we work. Different workouts impact our muscle glycogen levels in different ways. If you’re doing over 90 minutes of exercise, extremely high-volume workouts, endurance events or team sports, for example, football – carbohydrates are a must.
Lack carbohydrates and you will have minimal energy, and in turn, poor performance.
Why Use Intra Workout Carbs?
An endurance athlete relies heavily on stored energy (muscle glycogen) to sustain performance, so for these people, there is a clear case for ‘intra workout carbohydrates. However, during a typical bodybuilding style workout or strength training session i.e. exercise under 90 minutes, you’re not depleting muscle glycogen as much as you might think.
Whether you consume carbohydrates during, immediately or up to 24 hours post workout, plenty of research has found a small if any, noticeable difference in recovery rates – protein is still the most important macro for recovery. If you’re not using supplements and have a calorie surplus, intra workout carbohydrates are unlikely to provide a noticeable physiological benefit for you.
Endurance athletes have a more obvious need and greater opportunity to benefit from ingesting carbs during a workout. If you’re limiting your calorie intake, glycogen will likely already be depleted, leaving less readily available fuel for your muscles. This is why many marathon runners will use energy gels or packets that are pure carbohydrates, and often athletes refuel with sports drinks that contain simple carbs as well as electrolytes.
If you prefer to train first thing in the morning and don’t have the opportunity to fuel properly beforehand, intra workout carbohydrates that digest easily can provide a quick boost of energy without leaving your stomach feeling heavy like it does after eating a full meal.
What is a good source of Intra Workout Carbs?
Maltodextrin is one example of a quick acting, easily digestible source of energy to fuel your workout. Maltodextrin is created from various plant sources, like corn, rice, or potatoes. Therefore it is vegan, and often gluten free (but check the label for any potential cross contamination). Created from starch molecules, it is sweet like table sugar and can be simply mixed with water or any other drink.
Do Intra Workout Carbs Help?
If your body is in need of quick energy and you are demanding that it continue to perform, the science reasons that intra workout carbs can be effective. Providing your muscles with fuel when they run out of stored glycogen can prevent breaking down muscle tissue as an alternative energy source.
Consider your eating and exercise routine – if it’s been a while since your last meal, if you’re cutting back on calories, and if you’re pushing your body hard for a workout of more than one hour – intra workout carbs could be the boost you need to meet your goals.
Take Home Message
The benefits of intra workout carbs depend largely on the type of workout you’re doing. Take note of how long and how intense your workout is going to be and decide from there if you think your body needs an intra workout carb boost.