Carbohydrates and strength training: good or bad?

By: Rudiard Lodewijks owner Supreme Force Challenge -

So we are going to focus on the beneficial effects of KH during strength training. Sonja Bakker look away!

What are carbohydrates?

KH is a confusing term and comes under a broad spectrum. KH includes table sugar, potatoes and even fiber. To keep it simple, remember that there are two types of KH: simple (rapidly degradable) KH and multiple (slowly degradable) KH. The multiple KH also includes fiber.

When we start dissecting KH, we end up with monosaccharides: the smallest part of a carbohydrate. Monosaccharides can be easily transported through the bloodstream and provide energy. The three different monosaccharides are: glucose, fructose and galactose.

Simple KH are quickly broken down into the monosaccharides. This means that after consuming a food containing mostly simple KH, such as table sugar, it is quickly processed by your body and enters the bloodstream.

This will cause blood sugar to rise and shortly thereafter it will drop to below average. Also known as a "sugar rush" (high blood sugar) usually followed by a period where you are tired and hungry (low blood sugar).

Unlike the simple KH, the multiple KH will be broken down more slowly. After consuming potatoes, for example, the stomach and intestines have to do more work to break down the multiple KH into smaller pieces. As a result, you won't get an abrupt rise in your blood sugar levels.

Storage of carbohydrates

Skeletal muscles (muscles that move your joints) use glucose as an energy source in strength sports. To avoid having to constantly eat KH to supply muscles with energy, the body stores glucose in muscles and in the liver. The storage process in your muscles and liver is also called glycogen.

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The muscles and brain cannot use fats or amino acids (proteins) as a direct source of energy. The body has an answer to this: when the glucose in the bloodstream and glycogen stores in the muscles/liver are depleted, fats and amino acids are converted to glucose.

This is why "keto diets" avoid KH, so you tap into your fat reserves faster. However, the process by which fats and amino acids are converted to glycogen is slow and not efficient for short and vigorous efforts. For strength training, on the contrary, the goal is to keep muscle glycogen as high as possible so that there is enough energy to perform well.

Type and timing of carbohydrates in strength training:

It is now clear that the body must have sufficient KH to perform well during strength training. But how long before strength training and what type of KH should be consumed?

So because of the knowledge you now have about the simple and multiple KH and what it does to your blood sugar, you want to avoid experiencing low blood sugar during exercise. You want to keep your blood sugar as steady as possible.

So for that you need to consume multiple KH. Here is an example of some foods that contain multiple KH:

(unpolished) rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread, potatoes, whole wheat pasta, etc.


Finding the right timing is a little trickier. Everyone is different and can process certain foods faster than others. In any case, exercising with a full stomach is not the way to go because your stomach is still processing your meal.

For most people, consuming a meal 1 to 2 hours before your strength training session is sufficient time. This has to do with the type of food you consume. Fats and fiber, for example, are digested slowly, so you should wait at least 1.5 to 2 hours before training.

As a dietitian, I have my clients eat a full meal at least 1.5 before their strength training session which is low in fat (high-fat protein) and fiber (think broccoli or beans).


120 g cooked brown rice

100 g chicken breast, fried in 1 tsp olive oil

50 g bell bell pepper

Season with salt and pepper

300 - 500 ml of water

Recovery after strength training:

KH play a big role in recovery after a heavy strength workout. Your muscle glycogen and blood sugar levels will be low and need to be replenished. The simple KH are the key players right now. You want to get your blood sugar back up by consuming a food immediately after your workout that consists mainly of simple KH. Some examples: dextrose, fruit (banana), honey, candy (gummy bears).

In addition, you also want to consume a full meal no more than 2 hours after your strength training. Here the focus is on multiple carbohydrates, protein but now also with unsaturated fatty acids and fiber.


Right after a strength training session:

1 Banana

1 scoop of high quality protein powder

300 ml of water

Max 2 hours after a strength training session:

150 g cooked sweet potato

1 slice of salmon, grilled

150-200 g vegetables of your choice

½ avocado

Season with salt and pepper

300 - 500 ml of water

Carbohydrates and full muscle:

Finally, for athletes who want to look bigger and more muscular: carbohydrates are your best friends.

1 gram of glycogen is bound to 3 grams of water. Therefore, with enough glycogen and water in your skeletal muscles, you will have fuller muscle fibers. This is one of the reasons why after a "cheatmeal" you will have a huge muscle pump the next day and look bigger than normal.

Just don't get addicted to this! Too many "cheatmeals" to look good for one workout will be detrimental to your fat percentage and health.

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