When Should You Eat Your Carbs?

December 13th, 2009 by

I’m trying to lose fat and I always seem to read that you shouldn’t eat carbohydrates after a certain time of day, and that if you’re going to eat carbs, they should come in the early part of the day. The problem is that I train in the evening. Can I have a bit of carbs?

Yes, you definitely should be eating carbohydrates following your workouts and this holds true regardless of the time of day you train. The suggestion to cut carbohydrates off at a certain time comes from the idea that insulin sensitivity is highest in the earlier parts of the day and falls as the day progresses. According to a number of research papers, carbohydrate metabolism is rather poor in the evening.

However, exercise, and weight training in particular, is the great equalizer. Exercise creates a ‘carbohydrate window’ where your body is very responsive to carbohydrate intake. The post-workout period is characterized by a period of heightened insulin sensitivity and therefore positive nutrient partitioning. Basically, carbohydrates consumed in the post-workout period, regardless of time of day, are preferentially stored in muscle, where we want them to begin with.

This is the basis of nutrient timing. Carbohydrate and fats are simply consumed during the times they are most advantageous or preferred by the body. For carbohydrates this means the early hours of the day, and the peri-workout (around your workout).

So to answer your question again, yes, make sure that you’re consuming sufficient carbohydrate in your post workout meal even if you’re training in the evening. While glycogen replenishment isn’t really a priority of the post workout meal, since average volume weight training isn’t especially glycogen depleting, you’ll still get some glycogen replenishment due to the sensitivity of your muscles to carbohydrates at this time. The big reason for taking in carbs around your workout relates to halting the catabolic processes and kick starting recovery. Basically, you’re looking to put the breaks on protein breakdown and the gas on protein synthesis and you want a combination of quickly digesting carbohydrates consumed in your post workout meal (or even a pre/during workout meal or drink based on other research) to accomplish this.

How much depends on the volume of your session and your present goals, which you mentioned as being fat-loss focused.  The more volume you do, the more carbohydrates you can eat and the less volume you do, the less you can eat. For example, if you’re doing a traditional bodybuilding-type workout with a fair number of sets and reps in the standard hypertrophy range, you can have more post-workout carbs. If you’re doing more a strength-based/neurological workout with low to moderate sets and reps in the 4-6 rep bracket, you’re not going to need a ton of carbs. On average, if you’re dieting, you’re probably going to be safe falling in the 25-50g range.

Remember what builds muscle, is what keeps muscle.