Let me ask you a question. When was the last time you didn't meet your macros for Carbohydrates? Oh yeah... Never! Carbohydrates are abundant in nearly every food we eat, not to mention they're delicious. So why would you ever need a carbohydrate supplement? The truth is, you don't. Carbohydrate supplements are marketed as a recovery supplement, claiming that they help in muscle protein synthesis, and reduce protein breakdown and degradation. Well, I'm here to tell you the truth about carbohydrate supplements and why they're complete bullshit and a waste of your money.
1. Carbohydrates Help Recovery
Minimal at best. There are an innumerable amount of clinical studies, that provide solid evidence that carbohydrates only have a minimal effect on protein synthesis in the absence of protein ingestion. Meaning that if you don't ingest protein, with a carbohydrate following your workout, they really have no effect at all on muscle recovery or achieving a net positive protein balance, to induce muscle hypertrophy.3 In the studies that have correlated a reduced protein breakdown with carbohydrate supplementation, subjects were administered more than 100g of carbohydrates to elicit a measurable response on muscle glycogen synthesis.3 Consuming 100g of carbohydrates after your workout, to help with minimal muscle recovery, sounds like a real quick way to gain a ton of unwanted LBS. I highly advise not doing this.
The fact of the matter is that Protein is responsible for delivering the branched chain amino acids you need, to put yourself in a positive protein balance, in order to obtain faster and more efficient recovery times. Not carbohydrates. Carbohydrates play a very small role, in amino acid delivery, and protein degradation to promote a positive protein balance.
2. Carbohydrate Supplements Are Expensive
Carbohydrate supplements such as Maltodextrin, Clusterdextrin, and other proprietary fast-acting carbohydrates can range anywhere from $60-$75 for 30 servings. Do you really need to add $800 a year to your health budget, for something you can get from eating sweet potato fries?
3. Carbohydrates Should Come From Your Diet
Considering that you eat a well-balanced diet, with an adequate amount of carbs, carbohydrate supplementation is completely redundant and will add to unwanted weight gain. Supplementing with branched-chain amino acids, arginine, or clean forms of protein such as Whey Protein Isolate, will result in optimal recovery as opposed to any carbohydrate supplementation, without raising insulin levels, which creates body fat.
Stimulating muscle protein synthesis and minimizing protein breakdown are the two biological processes that are essential for increased muscle mass and optimal recovery. Essential branched chain amino acids are responsible for these biological processes, as they provide adequate fuel to replenish your body of the vital amino acids you need to gain a net positive protein balance, to help build and rebuild muscle mass.4 Carbohydrates help stimulate this process, by increasing the rate of amino acid delivery, however, carbohydrate supplementation is unnecessary to stimulate glycogenesis.
4. Carbohydrates Raise Insulin Levels
When you eat carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down into glucose (sugar), which then raises your blood sugar levels causing your pancreas to produce insulin, a hormone that prompts your cells to absorb sugar for energy, which turns into glycogen and stores body fat. Replenishing glycogen stores is vital for normal cellular function, however, you don't need a carbohydrate supplement to do it. Obtaining quality carbohydrates from your diet is always preferred as opposed to supplementation.
Nearly every food, besides straight sources of lean protein, have carbohydrates, which include, starchy vegetables like brown rice, sweet potatoes, quinoa, or yams. Or high-carbohydrate fruit like bananas and mangos. The point, is that with the addition of a carbohydrate supplement, you're not doing yourself any good, besides adding in extra calories, to potentially store more body fat, that you don't need or want.
5. Glycogen Stores Diminish Quickly
In a study conducted by the School Of Human Movement And Exercise Science in Western Australia, Glycogen plays a major role in support the energy demand, that is required for high-intensity training. Despite its importance, the amount of glycogen stored in skeletal muscles is so small that a large fraction of it can be depleted in response to a single bout of high-intensity exercise. For this reason, it is generally recommended to ingest food after exercise to replenish rapidly depleted muscle glycogen stores, otherwise, one’s ability to engage in high-intensity activity might be compromised.2
However, even in the absence of food, skeletal muscles have the capacity to replenish some of their glycogen at the expense of endogenous carbon sources such as lactate. Glycogen synthesis occurs even under conditions conducive to an increased oxidation of lactate post-exercise, such as during active recovery from high-intensity exercise.1 The fact is that we store such a small amount of Glycogen within our muscles, that close to half of our Glycogen stores can be depleted within minutes of maximal effort training. Therefore, Glycogen is used for only a fraction of the energy we demand during high-intensity training. Replenishing adequate amounts of carbohydrates should be easily attained through diet alone.
Getting the proper and adequate amounts of essential amino acids from protein and glycogen from carbohydrates is crucial to replenish and initiate the repair process to optimize your training. Supplementation with a carbohydrate alone, however, is completely redundant and unnecessary, as you should obtain adequate carbohydrate intake through your diet and natural food sources. Carbohydrate supplements are expensive, and despite their claims, without a form of protein to administer the essential amino acids uptake for muscle repair and recovery, they are seemingly worthless.
Optimize Your Recovery The Smart Way With BCAAs
Fournier, Paul A. et al. “Post-Exercise Muscle Glycogen Repletion in the Extreme: Effect of Food Absence and Active Recovery.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 3.3 (2004): 139–146. Print. [Pub Med]
Wilcox, Gisela. “Insulin and Insulin Resistance.” Clinical Biochemist Reviews 26.2 (2005): 19–39. Print. [Pub Med]
Poole, Chris et al. “The Role of Post-Exercise Nutrient Administration on Muscle Protein Synthesis and Glycogen Synthesis.” Journal of Sports Science & Medicine 9.3 (2010): 354–363. Print. [Pub Med]
Cooke, Matthew B et al. “Whey Protein Isolate Attenuates Strength Decline after Eccentrically-Induced Muscle Damage in Healthy Individuals.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7 (2010): 30. PMC. Web. 25 Sept. 2017. [Pub Med]