Intra-workout carbs are a type of easily digestible carbohydrate that is consumed during exercise.
The goal of intra-workout carbs is to help improve performance by providing a source of energy that can be used by the muscles.
These simple types of carbohydrates that are easily digestible can come one many forms including whole food, processed food, and supplements.
In this blog post we will cover:
- What is an intra-workout carb
- Which is the best intra-workout carbohydrate. Food vs supplements.
- Benefits of intra-workout carbs
- How many carbohydrates should you eat intra-workout?
When looking at intra-workout carbs it is important to point out that this is only 1 hour out of your day. So make sure you are meeting all your macro goals throughout the day.
Looking for help programing your intra-workout nutrition? Schedule an appointment with me today, I’d love to help.
Intra-workout nutrition is a term used to describe the consumption of nutrients during exercise.
The goal of intra-workout nutrition is to help improve performance by providing a source of energy that can be used by the muscles.
Intra-workout nutrition includes a large spectrum of athletic activities including, endurance and marathon training, and strength and weight training. Both have wildly different energy systems and duration that need to be addressed.
It is important to consume the proper nutrients at the proper time in order to help improve performance and recovery.
What is an intra-workout carb?
Intra-workout carbs are a type of carbohydrate that is consumed during exercise. The main purpose of intra-workout carbs is to provide energy to working muscles, which can help to delay fatigue and improve performance.
Intra-workout carbs are typically in the form of simple sugars, such as glucose or fructose. These sugars are easily absorbed and metabolized by the body, making them an ideal source of energy during exercise.
Intra-workout carbs are often consumed in the form of a sports drink, gel, or bar. However, any food that contains carbohydrates can technically be considered an intra-workout carb.
What are the best carbs to eat intra-workout
The best carb to eat intra-workout is a carbohydrate that is easily digestible and metabolized by the body.
Examples of easily digestible (simple) carbs include:
- Glucose (Dextrose)
These types of carbs are can be found in foods like fruit, juice, and candy also typically found in sports drinks, gels, and bars. When it comes to carbs, simple sugars such as glucose or fructose are ideal because they are easily absorbed and metabolized by the body. In fact, the research supports a combination of these simple carbs as the best intra-workout option. (1)
Let’s look at a few studies that were done on the effects of glucose, maltodextrin, Cyclic Dextrine, and fructose, on exercise performance.
In this study, researchers gave 20 trained cyclists a glucose water mixture in 3 different concentrations of 20, 39, and 64 grams per hour in addition to a placebo which was just water.
Researchers found that the cyclist given 39 grams and 64 grams of essentially sugar water was significantly faster than the control group and the group given the 20-gram sugar water solution. (2)
More research is needed to understand what is the ideal amount of carbohydrates and its timing.
In this meta-analysis, researchers looked at 35 studies examining the effects of a maltodextrin oral rinse and exercise performance.
The researchers stated:
“The key findings from this review were that evidence from the adjusted, random effects meta-regression approach suggests that a maltodextrin-based, carbohydrate oral rinse may cause improvements in exercise performance.”
Although these studies focused on maltodextrin oral rinse, they did look at different metrics of performance including power, time to completion, time to fatigue, jumping, and running. (3)
It is important to point out that there are limitations to this study and more research is needed.
In this Evaluation of Exercise Performance with the Intake of Highly Branched Cyclic Dextrin in Athletes, researchers gave participants a well-balanced meal containing protein fats, and carbs plus 1.5g of cyclic dextrin per pound of body weight.
This is an important detail as the only potential benefit of consuming any type of intra-workout carbohydrate is if someone is already meeting their calorie and macro needs. (4)
The researchers found that there when compared to both the control group, getting only water and the group getting water and glucose, The group of swimmers getting the cyclic dextrin had a ~70% increase in time to exhaustion.
This research showed that although glucose and highly branched cyclic dextrin are both simple carbohydrates, the construction or structure of these simple carbs may have an impact on performance. (5)
When compared fructose seems to have a similar effect as glucose on exercise performance.
However, when you combine the two (fructose and glucose) researchers showed that cyclists had an 8% improvement in time to exhaustion (6)
Although there are several types of simple carbohydrates that do have evidence to support their potential benefits, there are a few easy things to remember.
1. You want to avoid high fiber-containing foods that may cause slow digestion and lead to stomach aches.
2. Avoid eating other macros like protein or fat intra-workout as they will also slow down digestion.
3. Choose simple carbohydrates that provide you with 2 or more sources. For example, Gatorade has sucrose, which is a combination of glucose and fructose. Plus it has dextrose as well.
Best intra-workout carb supplement
There are a ton of supplements on the market. I AM NOT ENDORSING ANY. With that, I took the top 5 intra-workout carb supplements on the market and looked at their, carb sources and costs.
Check out the table
Best intra-workout carb food
I am sure by now you have heard about people eating gummy bears while working out. This is because they are a great source of simple carbs. Plus, they are pretty tasty!
Gummy bears are not the only food you can eat while working out. Here are a few others:
1. Honey or agave
2. Dried fruit
3. Fruit squeeze packs
The important thing is to make sure you are not eating anything too high in fiber or fat as it will slow down digestion.
If you are looking to improve your athletic performance, and want to add food sources of intra-workout carbohydrates. I can help you determine how many carbs you need based on your weight and activity level. Schedule an appointment today.
Intra-workout carbs benefits
The benefits of consuming carbs intra-workout are:
1. Increased exercise performance
2. Improved time to exhaustion
3. Enhanced glycogen storage
It is important to remember that the benefits of intra-workout carbs are only seen if someone is already meeting their calorie and macro needs. If someone is not eating enough calories or carbs they won’t get the full benefits of intra-workout carbs. (7)
How many carbs intra-workout
The American Academy of sports medicine recommends 30 to 60 g of carbohydrate intra-workout per hour. However, the ACSM recommendation does not take into account weight or activity type. (8)
When should I eat carbs intra-workout?
There is very limited research on the timing of intra-workout carbohydrates, the research is indicating that smaller more frequent feeding, “can favorably impact metabolic responses.” (8)
In a study looking at two different intra-workout carbohydrate feedings, one large bolus and smaller more frequent feedings, there were no differences in performance or capacity. But, the smaller more frequent feedings were less likely to cause stomach issues. (8)
Intra-workout carbohydrates are an important part of any athlete’s diet. While they are not magic, if they are part of a well-structured diet, they can provide athletes with increased exercise performance, improved time to exhaustion, and enhanced glycogen storage.
When choosing an intra-workout carbohydrate it is important to choose one that is high in simple carbs and low in fiber. Honey, agave, and dried fruit are all great examples of intra-workout carbs.
When it comes to timing, smaller more frequent feedings seem to be the best way to go.
I would love to hear what your go-to intra-workout carb is. Comment below.
If you are looking to improve your athletic performance, it is important to consume carbs intra-workout. I can help you determine how many carbs you need based on your weight and activity level.
Apply for custom nutrition coaching today. Let’s build your personalized nutrition plan.
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.
Noah Quezada is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist located in Denver, Colorado. Over the course of more than a decade, he has gained extensive experience in helping clients manage their weight through in-person sessions. Noah is also the 2023 President of the Colorado Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.