Almost everyone who exercises knows about the importance of consuming protein immediately following a workout. The Whey Protein shaker-cup has become a standard for gym-goers everywhere. But, and I mean a big but, many neglect the need for also consuming carbohydrates immediately following a workout.
This is partially because “carbs are bad,” right? In fact, the C word, “carbs,” has become a curse word for anyone who wants to be lean.
While avoiding carbs is a valid nutrition strategy, I argue here that the one time when carbs are not only acceptable but actually necessary, is immediately following weight training. These carbs must be fast digesting and will serve to replenish key nutrients needed for muscle recovery and growth.
A few weeks ago, I was reminded by my good friend Joe about an old bodybuilding nutrition trick that I had learned from some trainers at Gold’s Gym about six years ago. These meatheads (yes, the nicest guys in the world, but still very meaty) would eat four Oreos immediately after each workout. The trick, according to them, was “intended to spike their insulin and increase blood flow to help muscle growth.” I didn’t understand the science, but it was a great excuse for me to slam some Oreos each day. Without any research or validation of their claims, I developed a post-workout sweet-tooth.
This habit only lasted a few months, but I don’t think it is only coincidence that during that time I was at the lowest body fat percentage I have been at during my adult life. Sure I had many other lifestyle habits that contributed to this, but I couldn’t help but wonder, maybe they were onto something? Then, as I became less interested in bench pressing 300 lbs. and more interested in not-looking-awkward in a suit, I slowly stopped some of these bodybuilding habits I once had. Then, over time, I completely forgot about this “trick” until a little over a month ago when Joe, who has very low body fat, told me that he eats Nerds candy after each weight training workout. I was shocked. Joe didn’t look awkward in a suit, and wasn’t a meathead, but rather, had a proven track record of fitness and nutrition.
This excited me, and as I do with most things, I went all in on it right away, buying a couple boxes of Nerds that week, and starting to consistently eat them after each workout.
Unfortunately, however, this brought a lot of attention from my fellow gym members in the locker room. I received stares and puzzled looks of why is this guy eating candy after his workout? Does he have a problem? Does he not understand fitness?! And also the one guy who flat out asked: “what the heck are you doing?”
Yet, while I believed this nutrition trick does truly work, when I tried to explain it to others I sounded like a completely uninformed buffoon. So, in an effort to explain to others (and myself), I began researching. Below is, in Layman’s terms, what I found. Most of the information was detailed in Bodybuilding.com’s article The Benefits of Post Workout Carbohydrates, but there are also other blogs, forums, and articles supporting the original opinion on Bodybuilding.com.
Here it goes:
- When you weight train, your body uses muscle glycogen as its main fuel source, burning up that fuel and using its stores. Glycogen is the storage form of carbohydrates. Thus, your body is burning up carbohydrates, which are needed for muscle tissue restoration.
- Immediately after a workout, your muscles are starving for replenished glycogen/carbs to begin the muscle tissue rebuilding process.
- Feeding your muscles fast-dissolving carbohydrates, such as glucose, promotes glycogen synthesis. Glucose is a type of sugar and here “synthesis” means when a simple material (like glucose) is used to produce a more complex chemical compound. In other words, what you eat or drink is being put to work on your cells by transforming into the right form.
- The claim is, if glycogen synthesis and protein synthesis takes place immediately following a workout, then the body’s levels of growth hormone and insulin will naturally go up, which leads to muscle growth. (There are some good arguments that “spiked insulin” after weight training will promote muscle growth. Read more HERE.)
- One of the best forms of pure glucose is a sugar form called dextrose, which is found in Nerds.
- Thus, eating Nerds replenishes valuable glycogen stores needed to get stronger, faster, and leaner.
Those are the basics. I hope that made sense and I hope that I have convinced you to be weird like me (and Joe) and eat candy in the locker room. If I haven’t, that’s OK, I am still figuring this out myself. In fact, I am admittedly still seeking answers to the following questions below. Along with telling you what I know, I’ll also tell you what I don’t know.
What is the exact time window to replenish glycogen? I try for 20-30 minutes (maximum) after a workout, but really don’t know the perfect timing.
What is the exact serving size necessary? I pour approximately 2-3 tsp in the palm of my hand. That is not science. I wish I knew the proper amount.
Are there other ways to obtain the same effects without eating sugary candy? I think so. If you don’t like Nerds, you can otherwise ensure that you are eating foods high in dextrose. That should do the trick. Other options include, but are not limited to Smarties, Gatorade powder mix, some fruits such as apricots, tangerines, grapefruit and banana, cherries, plums, blueberries. Are there other options? Probably.
Can this work for anyone and everyone? Or do certain body types, fitness levels, genetic types, etc. react differently? I haven’t explored this yet. Considering our bodies are all different, I am sure this will not work for everyone.
Does this really work? So far in the last few months, I have dropped 3% body fat, so it is looking that way. However, I have not isolated this one change in order to use it as a test sample so I cannot give Nerds all the credit for this.
Do your own research. Eat some candy. What’s the worst that could happen?