A few weeks ago we talked about why we get fat. In case you missed it, here’s a summary:

Carbs.

Yep. It’s that simple. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s not that simple. It’s nowhere near that simple. However, it is clear that managing our carbohydrate intake goes a long way to help manage our fat accumulation. We, as Americans, need to consume fewer carbs if we want to get our body fat percentage to shredded status.

But there’s one time of day when our relationship to carbohydrates completely changes.

Enter exercise.

We’ve all heard about the importance of exercise when it comes to weight-management. You gotta do it. It’s essential. The body needs it. But most of us tend to think of exercise as cranking up calorie burn. We return to our calories-in-calories-out equation and think that exercise amps up the out-calories and therefore we lose weight. This is absolutely true. Exercise does help balance the calorie math in favor of leanness. However, when we work out there are far more magical things at play.

Why is exercise a game-changer when it comes to carbs?

Most of the day, our energy fluxes are moderated by insulin. A quick reminder of our bilingual equation:

Más carbs = Más blood sugar.
Más blood sugar = Más insulin.
Más insulin = Más fat storage.

However, during intense exercise the body doesn’t give a damn about insulin. In fact, despite a significant increase in our need for energy (and specifically glucose), insulin actually decreases (1).

WHOA, WHOA, WHOA. W.T.F.

But Rob…insulin is the hormone that tells our body to remove sugar from the blood and use it as energy.

Yep. Except during intense exercise.

Allow me to formally introduce you to catecholamines.

Catecholamines are hormones that are produced by the adrenal glands.  You’ve probably heard of the more famous ones – adrenaline (epinephrine), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), and dopamine.

Catecholamines are released during our primitive fight-or-flight response, but the physiological response during intense exercise is similar (and I do mean intense – a long slow jog isn’t going to make this magic happen – you’ve gotta be working at an 8ish outta 10 on your damn-this-is-tough scale.)  When that happens, our body dumps these hormones into our system and they trump our insulin command.

The games has changed.  We now have a completely difference coach.  Catecholamines are at the helm calling the shots, regulating our energy influx and outflux with extreme precision.  It’s awesome.

  • We’re working our little tooshes off.
  • We’re burning a boat-load of calories.
  • These calories aren’t being regulated by our insulin levels.

This is good news because it means we don’t need to carb up before an intense workout. In fact, carbing up an hour before a workout has been shown to reduce liver glucose output and fat oxidation (2) (3). No bueno if we’re trying to get lean.

But other, even MORE magical things are happening…

Allow me to formally introduce you to Lipoprotein Lipoase.

Simultaneously, during all this good stuff, intense exercise causes our body to shift a little enzyme called Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL.)  These little fellas are the gatekeeper for fat accumulation. It’s an enzyme that hangs out outside cells, sorta like a bouncer. If it’s hanging out outside a muscle cell, it’ll pull fat into the muscle.  If it’s hanging out outside of a fat cell, it’ll pull fat into the fat. (4)

So, intense exercise shifts LPL activity from fat cells to muscles cells. In other words, our muscles become primed to burn fat. Now to be fair, we don’t burn a whole lot of fat during high intensity exercise. We burn carbs. But, as you can probably imagine, shifting this fat crushing enzyme to our muscles and away from our fat makes a big difference when it comes to helping us get shredded.

OK.  Let’s summarize again…

  • We’re working our little tooshes off.
  • We’re burning a boat-load of calories.
  • These calories aren’t being regulated by our insulin levels.
  • We shift our muscles into fat burning mode.
  • We shift our fat away from fat storing mode.

For the record…at this point, we’re definitely winning.

Okay, okay…what happens next rob?

Well then….we stop.  ‘Cause hey…you can’t do high intensity exercise forever, right?

Now….

The catecholamines disappear (the half life of these suckers is a few minutes, max.) Insulin becomes the driving force behind our energy flux again. Our muscles are hungry and want to be fed whatever they can eat and our fat storage is basically turned off (4).

What’s a lovely thing to do at this point??

Feed your body carbs.

Yep. Your body is in a perfect place to utilize carbs. You feed those hungry muscles without storing energy as fat. An influx of carbs will spike your insulin which will drive glycogen into your muscles and get you all prepped for your next intense workout. Plus, this carb/insulin spike helps with a cascade effect that returns your hormones to their happy pre-workout state, because while all those higher-stress hormones are great when you’re working out, you don’t want ‘em in your system all day. Ya dig?

Eating carbs post workout is part of a smart get-shredded nutrition plan.

A qualifier – this post workout carb window doesn’t last the rest of the day. It last for a few hours. After that, we start to lose out on the benefits of the carbohydrate awesomesauce.

Another qualifier – The more depleted your muscles, ie the more intense your workout, the more carbs you can afford post workout.  Makes sense right…the more you lose, the more you can replenish.

A summary – If you want to get lean, avoiding carbs most the day helps (except for veggies, of course…always eat veggies.) But after an intense workout, eating carbs will manage your hormone profile, feed hungry muscles without getting stored as fat, and make you feel swell.

Win, win, win (again).

(1) Galbo H: Hormonal and Metabolic Adaptation to Exercise. New York, Thieme-Stratton, 1983
(2) Volek JS. Influence of nutrition on responses to resistance training. Med Scho Sports Exerc 2004;36(4):689-696.
(3) Ivy JL, Res PT, Sprague RC, Widzer MO. Effect of ca carbohydrate-protein supplement on endurance performance during exercsie of varying intesnity. Int. J Sports Nutr Exerc Metab 2003;13:382-295.
(4) Ladu MJ, Kapsas H, Palmer WK. Regulation of lipoprotein lipase in muscle and adipose tissue during exercise. J Appl Physiol. 1991 Aug;71(2):404-9.
(5) Mead JR, Irvine SA, Ramji DP. Lipoprotein lipase: structure, function, regulation, and role in disease. J Mol Med (Berl). 2002 Dec;80(12):753-69. Epub 2002 Oct 24.

 This article was originally published on Schwarzenegger.com on Nov 5th, 2012.

200 COMMENTS AND I’M POSTING THE GREATEST POST-WORKOUT CARB AND PROTEIN SHAKE KNOWN TO MAN. I CALL IT: NECTAR OF THE GODS.

LIKE THIS POST? Join the #BandanaArmy. We'll teach you how to fight tigers*.

* Do not fight any tigers, ever.

  • First! I had this shake once…It made me a man. -Jeffrey P Marsh

    • BandanaTraining

      This is true. I watched the beard grow.

  • Comment. (I want the shake..)

    • BandanaTraining

      oh we all do.

  • Great article! Is there a carb intake number that should be reached post workout for optimal results, or does your typical whey protein shake take care of this?

    • BandanaTraining

      some whey protein powders have more carbs than others. I’m planning on following up with a shake recipe and gram guide.

  • eazcu

    Excelente post, great advices. I’ll be waiting for more!

    • BandanaTraining

      That’s what I like to hear.

  • Jarack

    Interesting article. It’s informative but could perhaps benefit from a bit more rigour. Rather than sweeping phrases like ‘lots of carbs’ or the like, try including numerical suggestions such as grams per kg/pound of body weight. From a readers perspective different readers will think terms like lots/less/etc will mean different things. Well done otherwise.

    • BandanaTraining

      I’m planning on following up with a shake recipe and gram guide. I’m sure you’ll find it to your liking, sir.

      • Jarack

        Fantastic! I look forward to reading it. Well done again.

  • Rob this is such a great article! I feel like you know about my own hormones more than I do. yikes.

    • BandanaTraining

      Ohhhh Chelsea. You have no idea.

  • Rob J

    awesome article! i could read your articles all day keep em coming!

    • BandanaTraining

      haha. I’ll try, brotha.

  • After reading this, a heaping pile of rice and veggies sounds pretty awesome. Not without an ass-kicking workout beforehand, of course.

  • Jesse

    Good stuff Rob! Keep ’em coming!

  • Taylor

    I want to bring all the boys to the yard

    • BandanaTraining

      you dog you.

  • MR

    Good article, but how many carbs per day would be classified as low? How much fat is needed to compensate for the loss os calories and energy provided by carbs?

    • BandanaTraining

      We can talk grams, but I find it’s easier to just avoid carb dominate sources – that means the bulk of your nutrition should be based around non-starchy veggies, non-starchy veggies, meats, eggs, greek yogurt, nuts / nut butter, and more non-starchy veggies. It simplifies the process. Did I mention that you should eat plenty of vegetables?

  • Steven O

    great read. best post-workout advice i’ve ever gotten.

    • BandanaTraining

      wow. high praise. thanks.

  • Darren Drouillard

    Are certain carbs better after a workout than others (granola vs whole grain bread vs oatmeal….etc)? I work out first thing in the am and i’ll have a small shake before and a small one after after, usually fruit, proti (vegan as i am dairy intolerant , maybe a little pure fruit juice and water. Then i eat about 1 1/2 hrs later (some oatmeal usually)….should i maybe be switching the oatmeal and post-workout shake around? or just introduce some carbs to my post-workout (my protien has next to no carbs…i always thought they were the devil lol)

    • BandanaTraining

      Good question Darren. I’d add carbs to your post-workout shake. The dash of protein post workout is smart – it’ll help with tissue repair – but your macros should be AT LEAST 2-to-1 in favor of carbs. Then get back to low-carb later in the day.

      • Darren

        Awesome, thanks! What do you recommend to add to the shake to add some carbs? I’ve thrown in all-bran buds before and that was….ummm….interesting.

        • BandanaTraining

          You want simple and easy-to-absorb (exactly what you DON’T want the rest of the day.) That means berries, fruit juices, or carb powders such as Poliquin Quadricarb. Cool?

  • Paul

    So, should we still carb up in the a.m. Too?

    • BandanaTraining

      No. Not if you’re in shred mode.

  • L.J. Perry

    great article.. of course I have already missed the 1 hour window from my bike ride into work (yes an ass kicking 8 out of 10)..

    One question I do have, is – if you’re on an ultra endurance bike ride – say a 300K (187 miles) over 12 to 15 hours, do you eat carbs all day long? I’ve been carrying cliff bars and power bars but I’ve still never found the best combination. At times my stomach is like eff you.. you’re not putting ANYTHING in here..

    • BandanaTraining

      Ultra endurance athletes have VERY different nutrition needs. Yes…you need to consume a boat load of carbs because you need the fuel some truly incredible energy expenditure. That’s a different conversation. Kewl?

  • cruzer

    Do the type of carbs matter?

    • BandanaTraining

      Yep. Post workout you want simple & easily absorbable. The rest of the day, you want veggies.

  • Great writing and info as always. I can see where the rumor about Arnold would be true.

    • BandanaTraining

      Tanks Mark. Appreciate that.

  • Ben Johnson

    obviously you wanna get the carbs relatively quickly after doing work, but how long is the carb window of opportunity open after some high intensity exercise?

    • BandanaTraining

      There’s not a hard cut off (it’s a gradual reset of your bodies priorities), but there’s no point in delaying. Best strategy – plan a post-workout shake with the appropriate macros, then get back to your normal eating plan with the next meal/snack a few hours later. Kewl?

  • Alex

    Dude, carbs = insulin = obesity has been so thoroughly debunked that no serious lipid researcher believes it. Here’s a link: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2012/01/insulin-and-obesity-another-nail-in.html

    But I dig your writing so keep it up!

    • BandanaTraining

      Of course there’s more to the story than insulin, but the fact remains – managing our carb intake goes a long way to managing our body fat. …appreciate you reading.

      • Alex

        Then how come when people switch to a high-carb, low-fat diet (ala Dean Ornish, etc.) they lose weight?

        • BandanaTraining

          You can lose weight by eating anything. Literally ANYTHING. You can lose weight by eating only twinkies (if they weren’t going out of business.) What is POSSIBLE and what is OPTIMAL are two different conversations. I’m interested in the latter.

  • Sue Lynch

    Alfredo fettuccini here I come

    • BandanaTraining

      Good one, mom.

  • Jon

    Is earlier the better after the workout?

    • BandanaTraining

      You don’t need to pound a shake immediately after your last rep, but you should have something, say, on your way out of the gym.

  • Grant Welmers

    Rob, great blog sir… I eat about a bag and a half of Funyuns post workout and I feel like I am only gaining weight? I thought they were carbs? Please help!!!!

    • BandanaTraining

      ha – Grant, I’m stumped. I can’t imagine a less processed, more natural and perfect food than Funyuns.

  • mark

    enlightening…entertaining…exceptional – when is all of this becoming a book? and will it make me look like you???

    • BandanaTraining

      How kind…thanks Mark.

  • Lucy

    Awesome article thanks for sharing – defo would love to know the post-workout carb/protein shake recipe – I need it in my life! Thank you! 🙂

    • BandanaTraining

      Seriously. It’s soooo good.

  • need the recipe. gogo comment!! too hard for me eating after training after i drunk 1-2l water. ;(

    • BandanaTraining

      GO GO gadget comments.

  • Nice article, but where’s the milkshake! lol

    • BandanaTraining

      ….on its way shortly.

  • Spodz

    I feel like someone has finally decoded my muscles… Dan Brown write this piece?

    • BandanaTraining

      Mission accomplished. I was hoping to Da Vinci’s all over your pecs.

  • Thomas Ginty

    Great article, Rob! You make learning all this knowledge fun.

    • BandanaTraining

      Ha. Good to hear. I’m all about having a good time.

  • Greg

    Finally, some useful info at last

    • BandanaTraining

      BOOM.

  • Sara

    I’m not a grown man but I would love to have the recipe! You’ve altered the way I think about post-workout food/fuel

    • BandanaTraining

      Good to hear. And all are welcome here…not just broskiz.

  • Nathan

    Great post, good luck to 75!

    • BandanaTraining

      Appreciate it. Getting close.

  • Bennett

    Catecholamines are a good trip. I can’t help but to notice that many of the same hormones you mention also came up in my classes on abnormal psychology: The brain centers responsible for secreting them get all kinds of messed up when you engage in addictive behaviors like compulsive eating, gambling, porno watching (sorry guys, it’s true), and drug use (hell, the hormones were almost equally screwed up in the overeaters and porn users as in cocaine addicts). There may be something to that whole idea of living longer by living cleaner.

    • BandanaTraining

      Amen Bennett. Crazy isn’t it? Our reward center is the same, whether it’s cocaine or kettlebells?

  • Jessica Fosbinder

    Awesome Article! Finally starting to understand what used to sound like another language!

    • BandanaTraining

      So good to hear Jessica. Thanks for reading. Tell the fam I said hi.

  • Mike

    Question for you though: Should I be eating fast digesting carbs immediately after a workout, or does it make a difference?

    • BandanaTraining

      yea. Fast is good post workout ’cause your muscles are hungry.

  • Pingback: Meatless Monday: Acorn Squash Bowl()

  • Rusty

    As somebody currently getting a degree in exercise science, it’s awesome to come and read something like this relating back to class.

    • BandanaTraining

      Thanks Rusty – glad to help tie it all together.

  • Kiran S

    This was the first article i read by Rob and the whole carbs thing finally finally made sense thanks dude! 🙂

    • BandanaTraining

      lovely to hear.

  • Shawn

    Great read!

    • BandanaTraining

      Tanks Shawn.

  • Peter Scher

    Fantastic, informative article. Far too often I hear people talking about going to town on carbs any time after post workout. It’s as if they are working out so that they can justify consuming carbs. This article give me some ammo for my argument. Next stop, Shredsville.

    • BandanaTraining

      choot choot (Um. That was the train whistle – heading towards ShredVille.)

  • Ashley Schroeder

    Great article. I appreciated the balance of science info with layman’s language… good discussion in comments area, too! And now I can’t wait to come back and check out your shake recipe.

  • You have some valid points but I’m a little disappointed. You made no mention of fat oxidation through the Krebs Cycle. I’m sure that you know that fat can only be mobilized through the Krebs Cycle and the Krebs Cycle is not available on a low or no-carb diet. Are you saying that veggies provide enough carbs to facilitate the cycle?

    • BandanaTraining

      The Kreb cycle is an extension of b-oxidation [Acetyl-CoA (plus water) enter and NADH & FADH2 (plus carbon dioxide) pop out.] This is part of the much larger metabolic story, i.e. it is part of ONE of a ways in which fat gets metabolized (NOT mobilized – mobilization is a completely different bag of fun.) But there’s really no need to analyze the Kreb cycle. If you’re implying that it is impossible for someone to lose fat on a low carb diet, put someone on a low-carb diet and watch what happens.

      There’s always, always, always more than 1 way to skin a cat, amigo. Be careful about speaking in absolutes.

      • I understand that there are more than one way to lose fat. One big factor of cutting out carbs is that you cut out a lot of calories that way, creating a calorie deficit. It just seems futile to cut out your main energy source (carbs). Especially complex carbs, which I have seen work wonders for many people.

        • BandanaTraining

          Not futile at all. It’s very effective. For many people, getting enough energy is the least of their concerns.

  • chan

    really good, du mind if i share it?

    • BandanaTraining

      Share away, amigo….just site accordingly.

  • James

    Hi Rob, after resistance training and your bodies GLUTs are working to pump carbs and protein into your muscle tissue, and fat cells get switched off temporarily until insulin becomes dominant again.. I was wondering can this happen just once in a day, this type of change in your body? or could you work-out 3 times in the same day and get the same response each time? Thanks.

    • BandanaTraining

      Sure. can happen multiple times per day. Part of the reason why two-a-days are so effective at body comp alteration.

  • Ben Boudro

    Awesome Article Rob! You broke it down in an entertaining fashion. Thanks

    • BandanaTraining

      Thanks Ben. Appreciate the read.

  • GD

    Hey Rob, What happens if your really not eating carbs at all (aside from veggies) Is that a fast track to Shredville or a one way to DISASTER?

    • BandanaTraining

      Fast track for sure. BUT…pay attention to your training enthusiasm & progress. If either dip, amp up your post-workout carbs for a few weeks to re-engerize your workouts and continue your path towards Shredville. Sound good?

  • Sandra Alway

    I finally understand a whole section of jargin in my Precision Nutrition course!! Thanks!!!

    • BandanaTraining

      Mission accomplished. (Love that course.)

  • Kevin Nathern

    Is it still proper to eat carbs after a night workout. For instance, I get done working out at 8 p.m. I have a protein shake. Head home. Cook and eat a good carb dinner around 9-9:30 and then fall asleep around 10:30-11.00

    • BandanaTraining

      Yep. Don’t let a P.M. workout stop you from consuming post-workout carbs. But I will say that I prefer to add carbs to my post-workout shake and then have a meat and veggie meal for dinner, chu know?

  • Essay

    Yay! We can still have carbs if we are trying to lose weight!! Just have to have them at the right time! Takes a load off the worry of “How the hell am I gonna get through the day with little to no carbs?” Just gotta eat them at the right time! Thank you!!

    • BandanaTraining

      For sure. And the fact is…different folks do better on different carb intakes. Gotta experiment. “To thy own self be true.”

  • Erik Rokisky

    Awesome article , thank you for breaking it down so the average person can understand it . My clients thank you

    • BandanaTraining

      My pleasure @erikrokisky:disqus. Thanks for checking it out. Stay strong.

  • TMeister

    But what if you’re on Keto? Does this essentially work the same?

    • BandanaTraining

      Yes. A ketogenic diet, by definition, is extremely low-carb, so a lot of the same principles are at work.

  • Kurt Anthony Lightfoot

    Very informative and a great read as always. Thanks Rob.

    • BandanaTraining

      Heck yea. Thanks for reading Kurt.

  • Shelly

    So glad to hear from another Trainer who gets it!!!

    • BandanaTraining

      Appreciate the kind words Shelly. Thanks for reading.

  • Helena

    Sweet article. I need that post workout shake.

    • BandanaTraining

      yea you do. (Thanks for reading Helena.)

  • So, would an optimum diet be exclusively protein and veggies (with well-portioned fats), where the carbs only come in after a workout? Is there any other time for carbs? And is there any other macronutrient (or micronutrient) that is time-sensitive? Thanks so much!!

    • BandanaTraining

      Generally speaking, that’s the idea. But it depends on a few factors, including your current state of body fat, your exercise intensity/duration, and your goals/progress. That is why it gets confusing…because the optimum diet is different depending on where you’re at.

      • Ok, that makes sense. Thank you for responding to both my comments! If I’m 5’5, 138lbs, 25-26% body fat (according the handheld bf readers) looking to get down to 20% body fat, are there specific suggestions you would make? I workout at home, so my workouts are mostly weight-focused (15lb dumbbells), with a weekly hour-long walk/run interval session at 30% incline. Regarding diet, I recently stopped being a vegan, replacing soy with chicken and turkey. I keep everything organic, with “Ronda Rousey’s Breakfast Bowl” in the morning (steel-cut oats, hemp seeds, chia seeds, berries, cinnamon, stevia), 2 protein shakes throughout the day, and a large (usually kale) salad with chicken and an olive oil vinaigrette for dinner. And pre-breakfast I have a little immunity booster of apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and cayenne in a cup of water.

        I always wake up very hungry, and the thought of lifting weights or running before eating makes me want to kill myself… can I still get to 18-20% body fat if I always eat before training?

        I completely understand if this is the kind of advice you charge money for and therefore can’t offer for free. However I greatly appreciate any advice you feel comfortable giving freely.