Debunking Glycogen Replacement Myths

While there’s so much bad information out there with regards to sports nutrition, one of the most egregious areas involves post-workout “refueling” recommendations. Just take a look at what they dish out after most 5K runs. You see stuff like Gatorade, bagels, bananas, and “energy bars.” In other words, you see carbohydrates – and lots of them.

This practice is based upon the false belief that you have to quickly “replenish your depleted glycogen stores.” In reality, this is one of the worst things you can do for shorter length workouts (i.e. 45 minutes or less).

Bottom line, carbohydrate consumption to replace glycogen stores after an intense workout is usually counterproductive.

First of all, unless you are doing daily and chronic aerobic-level training beyond a 45 minute time period, any post-workout carbohydrates you consume will most likely be stored as fat. So unless you’re a year-round endurance athlete who starts out every day with a 1 hour+ bike ride, you won’t need to “top off” your muscle glycogen with a post-workout sports drink. In fact, the only thing you’ll probably be “topping off” is an existing layer of stored body fat.

Second, carbohydrate loading significantly raises your insulin levels. Not only does this downregulate (i.e. reduce) your growth hormone levels, but it also contributes to low-level inflammation throughout your body. So you end up curtailing your lean muscle mass development and promoting potentially harmful levels of continuous systemic inflammation.

The key is to defer to shorter but higher intensity activities (i.e. Power Law Workouts) and to refuel with proteins (and fats) no sooner than 45 minutes after you finish. So instead of reaching for the carbs, go with a handful of nuts, a small piece of chicken, or a hard boiled egg along with a glass of water. And be sure to supplement your diet with plenty of marine omega-3 fatty acids, too.

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