How Do Carbs Make You Less Sore After a Tough Workout?
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We’ve all been there. You pushed your body so hard at the gym yesterday that you’re sore today. Some muscle soreness is to be expected after a tough workout. But if you want to reduce the discomfort, you can do so by increasing your carb intake. To understand how this works, you must first understand what leads to muscle cramps and soreness in the first place.
Causes of Post-Workout Muscle Soreness
For the context of this article, when we talk about muscle soreness, what we’re really talking about is delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. This is the type of soreness felt a day or two after a tough workout session.
DOMS is different than muscle pain felt before or immediately after exercising. This type of acute soreness is due to lactic acid. And it goes away when you’re done working out. DOMS tends to stick around for days at a time.
One of the main reasons you experience DOMS is that exercising can cause muscle damage. Specifically, it damages your muscle tissue, creating microscopic tears. Not to worry though because your body will repair the muscle damage on its own. That is, as long as you didn’t push yourself to the point of injury. But while it does work on recovery, you’re going to feel a little sore.
This soreness is actually a result of an increased level of inflammation. Oftentimes we think of inflammation as a bad thing. Yet, this isn’t always the case. The body increases inflammation as a way to begin the healing process. It is a natural function that serves a valuable purpose.
Certain types of exercise are more prone to creating muscle damage and soreness. High-intensity exercise is one. So too does resistance exercise with heavier weights.
You may also notice that you are more sore after engaging in eccentric exercises. Eccentric movements force the muscle to lengthen and contract simultaneously. This sort of tug-of-war can lead to soreness. Fortunately, carbs can help.
How do Carbs Make You Less Sore?
Increase your carbohydrate intake and you can reduce post-exercise soreness. Carbs are important to this process because they refill your glycogen stores. When you exercise at a higher intensity, glycogen depletion occurs. Eating a carbohydrate source after working out helps replenish the muscle. This aids in recovery.
You can also reduce muscle soreness by eating carbohydrates before your exercise sessions. This enables you to start your workout with optimized glycogen levels. The less depleted they become, the less sore you will feel afterward. Plus, pre-exercise carbs can increase your energy and boost your performance. This is especially important when engaged in endurance exercise.
The Best Carbohydrate Choices for Muscle Recovery and Growth
There are two basic types of carbohydrates. The first is a refined carbohydrate. This is a carb that has been processed. As a result, it has lost a lot of its nutrients. Refined carbs also tend to be lower in fiber. An example of a refined carbohydrate is white flour or white bread. Processed foods such as crackers, dessert cakes, and candy also fall into this category.
The second type is complex carbohydrates. These are carbs that are in their more natural state. So, the body has a harder time breaking them down. These carbs are more nutrient rich. They also keep your blood sugar from spiking and falling like it can with refined carbs.
For muscle recovery, complex carbs are your best choice. These help to restore your glycogen levels in a healthier way. Good carbs to consider adding to your diet include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Brown rice
- Whole grain bread
A carb that Team USA touts for offering many positive effects is tart cherry juice. Tart cherry helps reduce inflammation. It is also an antioxidant. Together, these ease soreness and help to restore muscle function. Tart cherry also contains melatonin, which means more restful sleep.
For Best Results, Pair Your Carbs with Protein
It is well known that the best nutrient for repairing muscle is protein. That’s why many bodybuilders end their fitness sessions with a whey protein shake. Or they take a protein supplement such as branched chain amino acid (BCAA).
Pairing your carbs with a protein provides for more optimal recovery. It ensures that the damaged muscle has all the nutrients needed to fully repair.
Another benefit of combining cars and protein is that you stay fuller longer. This is helpful when trying to achieve weight loss or lower your body fat. The more you can stave off the cravings, the better your chance of hitting your goals.
Good carb and protein pairings include oatmeal with nuts, Greek yogurt and berries, eggs and whole wheat toast, brown rice and beans, or a protein shake with bananas. Adding these options into your diet keeps your stomach satisfied while helping your muscle recover.
What If You’re on a Low Carb Diet?
If you eat low carb, the idea of increasing your carbohydrate intake may make you sweat. This is understandable, especially since this type of diet offers many benefits.
One of the most common low carb diets is the ketogenic diet. Called the keto diet for short, this eating plan helps maximize weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing metabolism. Studies show that eating keto also lowers cholesterol.
Some research has even found that keto’s high fat, moderate protein, and low carb approach complements conventional cancer therapies. It works by causing oxidative stress within cancer cells. This makes them more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiation.
How do you make carbs work for you when you are limiting their intake? This is where timing comes into play.
Research reveals that the glycogen restoration process is typically fairly slow. Therefore, it is recommended that you begin carbohydrate consumption shortly after exercise has ended. If you don’t, you can reduce your rate of glycogen synthesis by as much as 50 percent.
Continue to consume carbs at a rate of 1.2 to 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight per hour. This gets your glycogen where it needs to be to help the muscle recover. In short, for maximum muscle recovery, consume a portion of your complex carbs immediately after working out. Then aim to consume a bit more a few hours later.
If you find that you are experiencing muscle cramps, you may want to consider elevating your carb intake. A low carbohydrate diet often has this side effect. Thus, increasing your consumption can resolve this symptom.
Keto Diet and Muscle Cramp Soreness
It’s also common for keto dieters to experience leg cramps. The reasons for this are many. Lower blood sugar levels can cause an electrolyte imbalance. Increased urination makes it easier to become dehydrated. Imbalanced and dehydrated muscle tends to cramp.
To reduce this type of muscle soreness, consume foods high in the nutrients potassium and magnesium. These help keep your electrolytes in balance. Potassium-rich foods include bananas, spinach, broccoli, and mushrooms. A high-potassium carb option is sweet potatoes. Foods high in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, almonds, and cashews.
Avoid dehydration while working out by regularly drinking water. Drink before, during, and after your exercise sessions. This will help keep your muscle from cramping and getting sore.
Because you will be urinating more often, it’s also important to make sure you consume enough sodium. If this nutrient becomes depleted, not only do you risk cramps, but also nausea, headaches, and confusion. In severe cases, seizures, coma, and even death can result.
Salted nuts are a great way to get protein and sodium. Putting some salt on your post-workout fruit salad is another option to consider.
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