During the heyday and golden era of bodybuilding, you had people like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane tossing dextrose into their shakers and drinking these carb dense juices to keep them fuelled during their grueling sessions with the iron.

Fast forward a few decades later and you see bodybuilders and powerlifters that have opted for sweeter alternatives like sour worms, gummy bears and other forms of sugary goodness to consume as a source of fuel while they power their way through their workouts. Logically, it would make sense to have a quick source of energy that absorbs rapidly to keep you going through an intense session. So, is this bro-science or is there any scientific backing behind this logical approach?

Carbs as Energy;

Have you ever heard of glucose and glycogen? Well, glucose is the body's most preferred source of energy. It works by being circulated in the body, in and through the bloodstream and is then transported to your cells for energy. However, your body has a limit as to how much glucose it’ll allow circulating through its bloodstream. Your body stores glucose in the liver and muscles form of glycogen as a readily available source of energy.

So how does your body tap into these stored sources? By a process, we know as glycogenolysis. Your body breaks down glycogen back into glucose into a potent source of energy. Depending on the volume, duration, and intensity of your training session, your glycogen stores can be depleted by approximately 36% in that time. In terms of practical use, consuming sugary snacks or highly dense carbohydrate drinks during your session for energy can easily be replicated by your body through glycogenolysis if you have enough glycogen stores in your muscles.

A study by Kulik et al. tested a placebo-controlled group that observed the effects of intra-workout carbohydrate on squats to exhaustion. “In this study, the subjects were made to do sets of 5 reps to exhaustion. The weight used was 85% of predetermined 1RM. The subjects received either 0.3g – 1g per kg of body mass of carbohydrates from Gatorade or a placebo prior to training and after each successfully completed set. There was no significant difference between groups in total sets, volume, work or rate of perceived exertion between the two groups. This study suggests that intra-workout carbohydrate may not benefit an athlete performing resistance training.”

So, if I eat enough, I don't need intra-workout nutrition?

The idea that has been prominent in the fitness industry since its conception was that there's a window during your session or post-workout where your glycogen stores need to be replenished or else, you’ll be privy to catabolism {the breakdown of muscle and amino acids into a source of energy). However, studies have clearly shown glycogen replenishment happens within a 24-hour period regardless of when you decide to eat your carbohydrates.

Many consume carbohydrates during or directly after a training session to replenish glycogen levels immediately. The literature has shown that glycogen replenishment will happen within 24 hours regardless of when carbohydrates are consumed. "In a study by Parkin et al, trained cyclists cycled at 70% of VO2 max for 2 hours. The athletes did this routine twice. On one occasion. they were given 5 high glycemic index {GI) meals in a 24-hour period starting upon exercise completion. On the second occasion, the same 5 high GI meals were fed except starting 2 hours after the tile training session. Muscle biopsies that were taken at 8 and 24 hours revealed that there was no difference in muscle glycogen or glucose-6-phosphate in either trial." This study patently demonstrates how consuming high GI carbs either intra or post-workout has no real difference in glycogen replenishment when compared with taking high GI carbs at any other time of the day.

So, what should you do?

Look at the bigger picture. Do what suits your lifestyle. Many great athletes prefer to have nothing during their training sessions while others swear by intra workout carbs. Yet both groups have absolutely incredible physiques.

The take-home here is just to get your carbs in by the end of the day. In whichever way you prefer to do it and when is completely up to you. Don't complicate your life if you don't need to.



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