You may be reading the title of this article thinking that this is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen. Nevertheless, if you understand the true science behind post-workout nutrition, you will better understand and see why candy could be the best post-workout carb to build muscle mass.
Carbohydrates are very important to maximize your post-workout gains. As I discussed in my last article, you want a combination of whey protein, high glycemic carbs and minimal fat. However, for the purpose of this article, let’s go more in depth and discuss what is probably the most confusing and underrated part of the workout recovery process: carbohydrate intake.
The main reason to consume carbs after your workout is to replenish the muscle glycogen that you burned during your workout. During exercise, you use muscle glycogen as your main source of fuel, which is the storage form of glucose. This is needed in order to generate ATP, which transports energy and is needed for muscle contractions. In order to replenish your muscle glycogen levels after your workout, you need to consume high-glycemic carbohydrates, which will digest quickly in your body. The higher the glycemic carbs means a larger insulin release that will increase glycogen storage and increase protein repair.
Most of the time, the harder you train, the more glycogen levels you will deplete. For example, high intensity training can deplete your muscle glycogen level by upwards of 75%! If you don’t properly replenish these lost glycogen levels, you are more likely to miss out on vital muscle and endurance gains.
Research suggests that quickly replenishing muscle glycogen can help you maintain a higher muscle cell volume for a longer period, which can lead to more long-term muscle growth. In addition, consuming high-glycemic carbs after your workout can get your energy levels back to normal so you’re not feeling tired and lethargic from the workout you just had. Haven’t you felt like you just want to collapse on the couch after your workout? Well, carbohydrate intake will keep you refreshed so you can have a more productive day after you leave the gym.
For this reason, you want foods containing glucose (also known as dextrose). Dextrose has a glycemic index of 100, which means it’s absorbed and utilized the fastest by the body. This is exactly what you want immediately after your workout.
50% of the sugar in most fruits, honey, and table sugar (sucrose) is made up of the sugar fructose. Fructose is a low-glycemic carbohydrate. The body does not use this type of sugar as efficiently. It can’t be directly turned into muscle glycogen, like glucose, due to its structure. When you consume fructose like fruit or high-fructose corn syrup, you don’t get that full immediate absorption into the bloodstream like glucose/dextrose will provide you. Instead, the majority of fructose goes to the liver, where it can be converted into glucose and stored as glycogen to be released as glucose when the liver deems it necessary to maintain blood glucose levels. Therefore, fructose is not what you want after your workout since it can’t be optimized for muscle glycogen replenishment.
However, believe it or not, specific types of candy can be extremely beneficial for your post-workout gains. Most candy contains high-fructose corn syrup or sugar as the main sweetener. Table sugar (sucrose) is approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose and high-fructose corn syrup is about 55% fructose or more. These are not optimal for your post-workout window. Instead, you want candy that uses dextrose as the main ingredient. Examples include Pixy Stix, Bottle Caps, and Sweet Tarts, all specifically made by Wonka. Gummy bears are also good. Most gummy bears, such as Haribo brand, use dextrose and corn syrup. Corn syrup is basically glucose and is very different from the adulterated high-fructose corn syrup. You can also find pure dextrose powder at most supplement stores if you aren’t the candy type of guy.
The beauty of your post-workout nutrition is that you can have those sugary and starchy carbs that you may typically crave without a negative impact on your diet progress as long as you do things correctly. Many people believe that fast-digesting carbs after workouts will make them fat. Most of the time, this is simply not true. The post-workout period is the one time of day when you’re almost guaranteed that those carbs will not be converted into body fat. Your body has just been exhausted and taxed through a vigorous workout. As a result, your body will use these carbs differently, using it for the basis of muscle growth and recovery. It should be noted that consuming high amounts of dextrose after your workout is beneficial if your aim is to bulk and build muscle mass. If you’re looking to cut and lower body fat, stick to lower glycemic carbs since you’ll still get an insulin response but it will be less likely for the excess to be stored as fat. Yes, it’s much harder for your body to store fat from carbs after your workout but it’s still possible due to the much higher insulin spike you are getting. It’s better to play it safe for this purpose. You would have to use the perfect amount of carbohydrates that would be just enough and you need much less than you think to replenish your glycogen stores. Sugar can shut off many full mechanism hormones in your body, which can cause you to eat more than necessary.
You might have heard or read from the experts that suggest having post-workout carbs like white bread, baked potato or pasta. Sure, these post-workout carbs are relatively high on the glycemic index. Nevertheless, the candy mentioned above is technically better if you go off the science. They are higher on the glycemic index, which means they could truly be the best workout carb there is. I just want to specify that you should only eat these types of candy and high glycemic carbs immediately after your workout. Otherwise, they have no use for our bodies and can do more harm than good if eaten at other times of the day.
Regardless of the science that’s out there, you should know your body. The science is really only there to help guide and figure out what’s best for you. Everybody responds differently to things. As I’ve said in the past, nothing is more efficient than conducting your own trial and error. You may see a better response off eating white bread; others may see better results with Pixie Stix or having dextrose-based powder. So the next time you finish your workout, switch it up. See how you feel and see how you recover so you can truly progress to a better physique.