What Is Carb Timing, and Can It Boost Your Workout Performance

What Is Carb Timing, and Can It Boost Your Workout Performance?

Losing Weight Through Carbs

When it comes to fat loss, research on the best time to eat carbs is inconsistent. In a 6-month study, 78 obese adults were asked to follow a calorie-restricted diet that involved consuming carbohydrates only at dinner or at each meal. The dinner-only group lost more total weight and body fat and felt fuller than those who ate carbs at every meal.

In contrast, another study in 58 obese men who ate a low-calorie diet with more carbohydrates at lunch or dinner found that both diets were equally effective for fat loss.

Meanwhile, a recent study observed that your body is better at burning carbs in the morning and fat in the evening, meaning that carbs should be consumed earlier in the day for optimal fat burning.

Also, several studies indicate that weight gain tends to occur with eating more calories later in the day, so larger, carb-rich meals in the evening may hinder fat loss. Due to these mixed results, it’s unclear whether there’s the best time to eat carbs for fat loss.

Also, total carb intake is probably more important than timing because eating too many carbs or calories from other nutrients can hinder weight loss.

Try choosing fibre-rich, complex carbs like oats and quinoa over refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and sweets, as the former is usually more filling.

Developing Muscles for Your Body

Carbohydrates are an important source of calories for people looking to build muscle mass. However, only a few studies have looked at the timing of carbohydrate intake for this purpose.

Some studies show that consuming carbohydrates and protein within hours of a workout can help increase protein synthesis, which is the process by which your body builds muscle. However, other studies indicate that eating protein post-workout is just as effective at boosting protein synthesis as consuming protein with carbohydrates.

That said, during resistance training your body relies heavily on carbs as a fuel source, so a carb-based pre-workout meal or snack can help you perform better in the gym.

Additionally, carbs have a protein-sparing effect, which means your body prefers to use carbs for energy rather than protein. As a result, it can use protein for other purposes, such as building muscle, when carbohydrate intake is highest.

Also, eating carbohydrates after a workout can slow down the breaking of the protein that occurs from reading, which can help muscle growth. Still, for most people, eating adequate amounts of healthy complex carbs throughout the day is more important for building muscle than timing.

Getting Athletic Performance and Fast Recovery

Athletes and people who exercise intensely can benefit from the timing of carbohydrate intake. Research shows that eating carbs before and after a workout can help athletes work longer and recover faster. It also reduces muscle damage and pain.

Indeed, exercising for long periods can deplete your stores of muscle glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates), which are your body’s main source of fuel.

Consuming carbohydrates at least 3-4 hours before a workout can help athletes exercise for long periods of time while consuming them within 30 minutes or 4 hours after a workout can help restore glycogen stores.

Additionally, having protein with a carbohydrate source after an intense workout can help your body replenish glycogen stores, which aids in muscle repair.

While athletes and people who exercise multiple times a day may benefit from carbohydrate intake during workouts, research indicates that it is less important for the average person.

What Is the Need for Carbs and Why They Are Required for Exercising?

Carbohydrates, including sugars, starches, and fibre, are macronutrients that are broken down into glucose (blood sugar) in the digestive tract. Glucose then travels through the bloodstream and into cells, where it can be used immediately for energy or stored in our muscles and liver as glycogen, a form of sugar that can be used as fuel for the body.

When you exercise, carbs provide fuel for your workouts. If you exercise without eating carbs first — and you tend not to have enough of these macronutrients in your diet to have a substantial reserve of glycogen in your muscles —your body breaks down protein in your muscles for fuel instead. Tapping these protein stores can make you fatigue more easily and more prone to dizziness and dehydration during intense workouts.

Examples of healthy carbohydrates include:

  • Grains and Starches: opt for whole-grain options when it comes to pieces of bread, cereals, rice, and pasta.
  • Legumes: Legumes are also an excellent source of vegetable protein. These sources include split peas, lentils, and beans.
  • Fruit: Patton recommends whole fruit, with the skin intact. “But some fruit is better than no fruit,” he observes. “So, if canned fruit is more accessible or affordable, that’s fine too. Just put it in water or juice and strain it.”
  • Vegetables: These healthy carbs are also high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. High-carb vegetables include potatoes, corn, root vegetables, and pumpkins.
  • Milk: Milk is a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

Do You Know the Best Time to Have Carbs?

Most foods and food groups contain carbs, so you need to find the right balance. If you’re an average healthy person, eat carbs at every meal throughout the day. However, consuming carbs earlier in the day may be better if you:

Want to Lose Weight or Improve Your Blood Sugar

Most Americans are active early in the day and more sedentary at night. Having the most carbs in the evening can spike your blood sugar. Your body then stores the extra glucose that you have made. Do not use it for energy like body fat.

Exercise in the Morning

If you exercise in the morning for less than an hour, you can train on an empty stomach and get into the fat-burning zone. If you’re more of an endurance athlete or train for longer than an hour, you might need a little pre-workout snack. Either way, it’s good to have some carbs to help you refuel later.

Having Trouble Sleeping

Eating carbohydrates at dinner can affect your sleep if you go to bed while the food is still digested, especially if you have heartburn.

To get the energy benefits, you need to consume the right kind of carbs. Many nutritionists claim that eating sugary and processed foods can quickly raise your blood sugar. As a result, you may only be hungry an hour or two later and eat even more. The same can happen if you only eat carbs and don’t get enough protein and fat.

Following a Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet, or keto, is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet often used for weight loss. This typically involves limiting carb intake to less than 50 grams per day to achieve and maintain ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbs. 

Currently, there is evidence to suggest that carbohydrate intake times are lacking in facilitating weight loss on a ketogenic diet. However, if you’re an active person, timing your carb intake during workouts can improve your performance. ketogenic diet. 

Additionally, if insomnia occurs on a ketogenic diet, eating carbs before bed may help you relax and fall asleep faster, according to some research.

How Different Types of Carbs Effect Your Workout?

There are two types of carbs, simple and complex, and they can play different roles in fuelling a workout.

Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are sugars that break down quickly in the body, sending glucose quickly into the bloodstream, according to various studies.

Sugar comes in two types: natural and added. Sources of natural sugar include fresh fruit and milk, while added sugar often resides in processed foods and beverages such as packaged candies, sodas, and fruit juices. For the record, Rice Krispies treats fall into the latter, unhealthy category. These types of carbs can cause a quick spike in energy, followed by feelings of fatigue.

Although most dieters recommend avoiding simple carbohydrates in your daily diet, these foods can be useful before a vigorous workout. That is to say that if you snack before a sports session, especially in the morning, it is better to give simple carbohydrates, fuel that is quickly available.

Decades of research have linked pre-workout simple carbohydrates to benefits such as improved endurance. For example, a previous study found that experienced cyclists performing exercise tests were fatigued after 134 minutes without carbs before training but lasted 157 minutes on a simple carbohydrate drink before training. Another study also looked at cyclists and found that they burned less glycogen in their muscles during workouts when they exercised, they had simple carbs before exercise, and they could do weight loss. exercise longer before fatigue than participants who had no simple carbohydrates before exercise.

Drinks or smoothies with 300 to 400 calories are best within 60 minutes of working out because they are easily digested, the academy advises. For more intense or longer workouts, eating a 1,000-calorie meal two to four hours early can boost your endurance.

When opting for simple carbohydrates, many studies recommend choosing natural sources, such as nutritious fruit or milk, over supplemental sources, such as soda or candy. Many researchers recommend that men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day, while women limit their intake to 6 teaspoons per day.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are fibre and starch and also play a role in increasing physical performance. Compared to simple carbs, they take longer to break down in the body, creating more stable blood sugar levels. According to many studies, examples of complex carbohydrates are vegetables, whole grains, legumes and beans, nuts and seeds, and unpeeled fresh fruit.

One of their benefits: Eating more whole grains can help increase protein stores in our muscles and preserve muscle mass. Information from one study even compared the effect of a diet containing many whole grains to a diet containing many processed grains such as white bread. It found that people who ate whole grains performed better on walking speed tests had higher muscle protein stores and had better overall muscle function than people who didn’t eat these healthy foods.

Do You Need Carbs for Moderateintensity Workouts?

Those benefits of simple and complex carbs sound impressive, but the truth is you may not need to change your carb intake at all before working out. There’s an easy way to tell whether your workout is intense enough to require extra carbs at the start.

If you can easily talk in complete sentences while working out, this is probably a low-intensity exercise. During a moderate-intensity workout, you will only be able to string together a few words before you need a deep breath. If talking at all is a challenge, your workout is intense.

For a low or moderate-intensity workout of fewer than 60 minutes, you don’t need carbs beforehand, but if you like doing this it probably won’t hurt.

What Should Your Daily Carb Intake Be?

Many researchers believe that following the dish method is an easy way to ensure that you are eating the right amount of carbohydrates. Start with a 9-inch plate. Fill it halfway with veggies, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with carbs. If you are an athlete or physically active, dividing the plate into three might better fuel your day.

Some recommend keeping macronutrients in balance at each meal. Your body can only absorb so much protein at a time. It processes fuel more efficiently at smaller, more frequent doses. Hence, be consistent throughout the day: eat three meals and two or three snacks.


Carbohydrates can play an important role in many health and fitness goals.

Athletes and people who train multiple times a day can improve performance by eating carbs before a workout and speed recovery by eating them afterward.

However, for the average person, timing appears to be less important than choosing high-quality complex carbohydrates and controlling total caloric intake.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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