Should You Eat Carbs Before or After a Workout?

There’s a debate in the fitness world whether you should avoid carbs altogether or just avoid eating them at specific times of the day. Should you eat carbs before or after a workout to promote optimal fitness?

The Truth About Low-Carb Diets and ‘Slow-Carbs’

While some claim that you can get half of your daily calorie intake from carbs, others say carbs may lead to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

If you’re wondering what is true, I’ve got you covered. In this article, I talk about the difference between good and bad carbs and if you should eat them before or after a workout.

What are Carbs?

If you’re wondering what are carbs, you are in the right place. Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients your body needs in order to function correctly. The other two are protein and fat. Macronutrients make sure your body is equipped with calories in order to perform at its best.

Best sources of carbs before or after workout.
Carbs Act As Fuel For Your Central Nervous System As Well As Energy For Your Muscles (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Carbs are composed of sugars, starches, and fibers—things you can easily find in a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy products. Carbs are also your body’s primary source of energy. At the chemical level, they’re composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Carbs act as fuel for your central nervous system as well as energy for your muscles. They prevent the use of proteins as an energy source, and that’s why they are immensely important in your diet. 

In addition, carbs are also great for brain function—they can influence mood and memory and play a role in the decision-making process.

The debate around the positive or negative effects of carbs is a long one, but one thing all experts agree on is the fact that there are good and bad carbs.

Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

You can find carbs in a lot of foods, from vegetables toice cream. That’s why we should talk about good and bad carbs.

Selection of good carbohydrates sources.
Good Carbs Are Processed More Slowly And Are Jam-Packed With Good Nutrients To Nurture Your Body (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Carbs that are usually called bad ones can be found in highly processed foods, pastries, sodas, and every food made with white flour or white sugar. The main characteristic of bad carbs is that they rarely have much nutritional value, but luckily, there are great options for white flour substitutions.

Good carbs, on the other hand, are exactly that—good for you. Good carbs are processed more slowly and are jam-packed with good nutrients to nurture your body. You can find good carbs in whole grains, fruits, legumes, and nuts. Those are lower-calorie foods. Foods with good carbs are packed with nutrients. They are free from refined sugar, high in fiber, low in sodium and saturated fat, and very low in trans fats.

Bad carbs are the opposite. They are high in calories and usually contain a lot of sugar. They include white flour and are low in fiber and other nutrients. If you see a high percentage of sodium and trans fats on the nutrition facts list, that’s probably something you should avoid eating.

Slow- vs. Fast-Acting Carbs

Fast-acting and slow-acting are labels that indicate how quickly carbs can change blood glucose concentrations.

Fast carbs digest, absorb, and release energy at a much higher pace. Insulin spikes during physical activity are not something that fast carbs would provoke.

Slow carbs are the opposite—they release energy slower into the body, and they slowly digest and absorb. The central role of slow carbs is to deliver energy to the body over a more extended period, and to be able to do that, they spend more time in the intestine.

When to Eat Carbs

When it comes to your diet, having balance is always crucial because carbs can both harm you and do you good, depending on when and how you consume them.

Woman eating hamburger isolated on white background.
Carbs Can Both Harm You And Do You Good, Depending On When And How You Consume Them (Image Source: Shutterstock)

If you want to lose weight or maintain your blood sugar levels, it is better to eat your carbs in the morning. Also, if your morning routine contains exercise, a good portion of carbs in the morning will help keep your blood sugar levels on point so that it doesn’t spike later in the night and store that extra glucose as fat.

If you’re working out in the morning for less than an hour, it is ok to do it on an empty stomach. But if you’re running for longer than an hour or you’re an endurance athlete, it is good to have a quick breakfast before your workout.

It is not the best option to eat right before your workout because you don’t want to work out while your stomach is trying to digest food. It might cause you to feel discomfort while you’re exercising, and you will not be performing at your best. 

It is best to eat about one to four hours before your workout, depending on how your metabolism processes food. Some people take longer while others are good to jump into a workout around 40 minutes after their meal. Experiment and see what works for you and your body.

Here are a couple of simple yet delicious and very nutritious meals you can try incorporating into your diet as a pre-workout meal:

  • Oatmeal with nut milk and fruits
  • Greek yogurt with blueberries
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Peanut butter and banana smoothie with chia seeds

These ideas contain both carbs and protein, where carbs play the “fuel” part and protein serves as a repair tool. While eating protein and carbs before the workout is a great way to start, it is even more critical to get both into your system after a workout.

Sore muscles are often a side effect of a workout. So having protein to help repair the damage and carbs to fuel you for the rest of your day is vital for a healthy and strong body. Whatever you do, make sure you have a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables every day along with other important nutrients.