Carbohydrates and strength training: good or bad?

By: Rudiard Lodewijks owner Supreme Force Challenge - https://supremeforcechallenge.nl/

So we're 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 is covered by a broad spectrum. It includes table sugar, potatoes, and even fiber. To keep it simple, remember that there are two types of carbs: simple (rapidly degrading) carbs and multiple (slowly degrading) carbs. The multiple carbs also include fiber.

If we are going to dissect KH we eventually arrive at monosaccharides: the smallest part of a carbohydrate. Monosaccharides can easily be transported through the bloodstream and provide energy. The three different monosaccharides are: glucose, fructose and galactose.

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

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

In contrast to the simple KH, the polyunsaturated KH are broken down more slowly. After eating potatoes, for example, your stomach and intestines have to work harder to break down the polyunsaturated carbohydrates into smaller pieces. This prevents an abrupt rise in your blood sugar level.

Storage of carbohydrates

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

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 the glycogen supply in the muscles/liver are empty, fats and amino acids are converted into glucose.

This is the reason why 'keto diets' avoid KH, so that you can 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 powerful efforts. In power training the aim is to keep the muscle glycogen level 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 the power training and what type of KH should be consumed?

So with 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.

Therefore you need to consume polyunsaturated KH. Here is an example of a number of foods that contain polyunsaturated carbohydrates:

(silverflour) rice, oatmeal, wholemeal bread, potatoes, wholemeal pasta etc.


Finding the right timing is a bit trickier. Everyone is different and can process certain foods faster than others. In any case, it is not the intention to start exercising with a full stomach, because your stomach is still busy 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 fibers for example are digested slowly, so you should wait at least 1.5 to 2 hours before you can start training.

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


120 g boiled brown rice

100 g chicken breast, fried in 1 tsp olive oil

50 g bell pepper

Season with salt and pepper

300 - 500 ml water

Recovery after strength training:

KH play a big role in recovery after a heavy strength training session. Your muscle glycogen and blood sugar levels will be low and need to be replenished. The simple KH are the main players now. You want to raise your blood sugar level again by consuming a foodstuff consisting mainly of simple carbohydrates immediately after your workout. Some examples: dextrose, fruit (banana), honey, candy (gummy bears).

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


Right after a strength training session:

1 Banana

1 scoop high quality protein powder

300 ml water

Max 2 hours after a strength training session:

150 g boiled sweet potato

1 slice of salmon, grilled

150-200 g vegetables of your choice

½ avocado

Season with salt and pepper

300 - 500 ml water

Carbs and full muscles:

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

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

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

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