Without having a wide knowledge base about carbohydrates, how they work, and when you should incorporate them into your diet, it can be extremely confusing to know if you should take a carb supplement, post-workout. Carbohydrates have been vilified and on the macro chopping block, since popular dieting trends such as Keto support high fat and protein intake. With an overwhelming majority of “Instagram experts” who also support the low or no carb dieting approach, it just adds to the confusion of knowing whether or not you should take a carb supplement. But, carbohydrates are amongst the most important macronutrient you can include in your diet, for proper brain function, energy, and post-workout recovery. With that said, we’re going to find out, if you should be taking a carb supplement, and if post-workout carbs are right for you.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are composed of fiber, sugar, and starches. Carbohydrates provide the fast-acting energy through glycogen that your body needs to optimal brain and body function. The reason why carbohydrates have such a bad reputation, (amongst those trying to lose weight and general weight-loss diets) is that depending upon what type of carbohydrate you eat, they can contribute to raising your blood glucose (sugar) level, and attribute to creating more body fat. However, that depends on whether or not the carbohydrates you’re eating are simple or complex.
What Is The Difference Between Simple And Complex Carbohydrates?
SIMPLE CARBS are composed of sugars and can be broken down into two distinct categories– glucose and fructose. Glucose acts as your brain's main energy source and is also known as the sugar in your blood. When you eat foods that are primarily composed of simple carbohydrates your blood sugar rises and your body secretes insulin. The insulin then directs your body to store the glucose in your muscle and liver as glycogen, with excess glucose being stored as body fat. Convenient packaged foods and baked goods, such as pop-tarts, cereal, pasta, and white bread are types of simple carbohydrates and usually rank high on the Glycemic Index.
The Glycemic Index (GI) is a relative ranking of carbohydrate in foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates with a low GI value (55 or less) are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized and cause a lower and slower rise in blood glucose and, therefore insulin levels. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested, absorbed and metabolized and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar (glucose) levels. Low GI carbohydrates – the ones that produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels – are one of the secrets to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss [R].
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Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit and is also an additive to processed foods. Fructose doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels, however, if your glycogen stores are full, additional fructose will turn into body fat as well.
Most simple carbohydrates are found in the forms of food additives, which are usually hidden in a products ingredient list and can go by several different names such as Corn syrup, High fructose corn syrup, Raw sugar, Brown sugar, Dextrose, Fructose, Galactose, Glucose, Granular fruit grape juice concentrate, Maltodextrin, Lactose Sucrose, Molasses, Organic cane sugar, Sorghum, Turbinado, and Honey.
It’s important that when you’re assessing what foods to include in your diet, to look at the other ingredients, or ingredients lists on a nutritional label to make sure you stay away from these food additives, no matter what your body or athletic goals may be.
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COMPLEX CARBOHYDRATES are structured as starch or fiber and digest much slower than simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are found in whole grains, like oats, legumes, starchy vegetables, and fruit, and which are composed of longer-chained sugar molecules
The difference between starch and fiber is that starch is composed of many sugar molecules and is broken down easily and converted into glucose. Fiber is a bundle of sugar molecules as well but does not spike blood sugar.
The human digestive system cannot break fiber down until it nears the end of the digestive tract, and is therefore considered to be a nondigestible carbohydrate. Fibrous foods include bran, nuts, wheat, vegetables, barley, beans, and oats. Complex carbohydrates are better for you because they slow the absorption of sugars, which remove cholesterol and slow down your digestion to keep you fuller for longer. To read more about the specifics between simple and complex carbohydrates read the article below.
RELATED ARTICLE Simple Vs. Complex Carbohydrates
What Is The Difference Between Carbs And Net Carbs?
Ever wonder what the difference is between carbs and net carbs? Protein bars and healthy food snacks often market their products claiming they only have x amount of net carbs. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but as stated earlier, your digestive system cannot break it down, and so it’s considered a non-digestible carbohydrate. Therefore, net carbs = total carbs – net carbs (fiber).
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Should You Take A Carb Supplement?
Now that you know the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates, and a bit more on how carbohydrates work, the question is, should you take a carb supplement? And what are carbohydrate supplements used for?
What Are Carbohydrate Supplements Used For?
Carbohydrates are important as a fuel source during endurance training and prolonged exercise. The major fuel source during your workout to provide long-lasting and sustained energy is glycogen. The greater your glycogen stores, the longer the exercise time to exhaustion. This is why endurance runners, and high-performance crossfit athletes will eat honey wafers, take a carb supplement, or ingest energy gels, which are composed of simple or complex carbohydrates, to provide a fast-acting energy source to replenish glycogen stores [R, R].
Therefore, carbohydrate supplements are used for
- Providing Long-Lasting Sustained Energy
- For Faster Recovery
There are two specific criteria, in which you should be taking a carb supplement.
1. If You Are An Endurance Athlete
If you’re an endurance athlete and require a larger amount of carbohydrates in your diet, then yes you should absolutely be taking an intra workout carb supplement and post workout carb. According to clinical research regarding muscle glycogen synthesis, for optimal training performance, muscle glycogen stores must be replenished on a daily basis. For the average endurance athlete, a daily carbohydrate consumption of 500 to 600g is required. This results in a maximum glycogen storage of 80 to 100 mumol/g wet weight [R].
Well, what if you’re somewhere in-between? Most individuals leading an active lifestyle, who work out more than once per day, can definitely benefit from using a post workout or intra workout carb supplement. For example, I lift 3-5 days per week and attend crossfit classes. On the days I workout multiple times, or have multiple WODs, I’ll supplement with a wholesome natural carb supplement, to help give me more energy throughout my training and for faster recovery
2. You’re Trying To Gain Strength And To Meet Your Macronutrient Goals
Personally, my macros consist of 50% carbohydrates. That’s because the carbohydrates I eat, are complex carbohydrates which means they are digested at a slower rate than simple carbohydrates and do not spike my blood glucose level. Since my blood glucose levels are not spiked, my insulin levels do not rise, and my body does not create more body fat. Again, personally I have found that my body does well with higher complex carbohydrates and protein, as opposed to eating more healthy fat [R].
That being said, carbohydrates are not bad for you despite what instagrammers with anecdotal evidence and dressed in gym shark apparel say. If you include natural, wholesome complex carbohydrates in your diet, then you’ll get the ingredients you need to power your training and optimize your recovery.
What Are The Best Carb Supplements?
Many of the carb supplements that you find online and at supplement stores are composed with fast-acting simple carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, highly-branched cluster dextrin (HBCD), waxy maize, or dextrose. The problem with these carb supplements is that they’re made with cheap simple carbohydrates that will spike blood glucose levels, and attribute to weight gain, if you’re not endurance training.
Complex carbohydrates made from real food such as sweet potatoes, yams, and oats are the preferred and natural carbohydrate fuel source to provide long-lasting sustained energy, without spiking blood insulin levels and creating more body fat.
Carb supplements such as HBCD, waxy maize, maltodextrin, and dextrose have no clinical evidence showing that they increase human performance when tested against other natural carb supplements. The other problem with most carb supplements is that they increase blood glucose levels and spike insulin production, which increases energy levels, followed by a rapid dip, similar to a roller coaster, and causes an energy crash and fatigue.
RELATED ARTICLE Maltodextrin Vs. Highly Branched Chain Cluster Dextrin
Therefore, if you’re thinking about using a carb supplement, it’s important to use a carb supplement that comes form a natural food source. We recommend Clean Carbs, since it’s made with sweet potatoes, yams, rolled oats, and blueberries.
RECOMMENDED PRODUCT Clean Carbs (45 Servings)
Post Workout Carbs: Should You Take A Carb Supplement?
If you’re serious about training and lead an active healthy lifestyle, then yes supplementing a natural wholefoods carb supplement is extremely beneficial. Carb supplements will help provide you with long-lasting sustained energy and optimizing workout recovery. With that said, natural food sources should always be considered first when trying to meet macronutrient goals and performance driven results. Yet, with living an active lifestyle, having a post-workout carb supplement to help replenish glycogen stores, provides a fast and convenient way to get the healthy ingredients you need to power your performance.
Looking for the best carb supplement to power your active lifestyle?
Swolverine's Clean Carbs is made with 100% natural whole-foods from complex carbohydrates, including Sweet potatoes, Yams, Oats, and Blueberries to provide the long-lasting and sustained energy your body needs to fuel performance and optimize recovery. Delicious and rich you can add it to your smoothies, shakes, or mix with water, for a rich and tasty treat.
SWOLVERINE is an endurance athlete and active lifestyle brand. Made for the elite athlete, and the strong-willed our products were designed to fuel your athletic performance. We perform when you perform.
We believe that everyone can optimize not only their athletic performance but their human potential. The way we believe we can optimize performance is through transparency, clinically effective doses, and clinically proven ingredients with evidence-based outcomes. We provide the nutrients you need to power your active lifestyle.
Ivy JL. Muscle glycogen synthesis before and after exercise. Sports Med. 1991;11(1):6-19.
Friedman JE, Neufer PD, Dohm GL. Regulation of glycogen resynthesis following exercise. Dietary considerations. Sports Med. 1991;11(4):232-43.
Adeva-Andany, María M et al. “Glycogen metabolism in humans.” BBA clinicalvol. 5 85-100. 27 Feb. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.bbacli.2016.02.001