Leg days are brutal, that’s why many want to skip them, but what’s more annoying is the soreness experienced after a workout. Your hamstrings, glutes, and quads are the biggest muscle groups in the body and they demand a unique nutritional requirement for better recovery.
While most of the people are concerned about the protein-rich diet after a fulfilling legs workout, most of us still forget about carbohydrates.
The fact is, carbohydrates are a muscle’s primary source of fuel (1) and play a crucial role in fast recovery and strength development.
Cutting down carbs is understandable if you are on the cutting phase but even that needs to be done with proper planning. If you are on a low carb diet for the shredding then don’t worry, we have special tips for you, we are going to cover that part ahead in this article.
Let’s find out, the role of carbs for muscle recovery and how much you need them for fast recovery.
Carbs or protein for recovery?
Why not both?
Why do you want to choose one over the other? Carbohydrate job is to restore the muscle glycogen reserves and protein’s job is to repair the muscle damages (which occurred after strenuous exercise).
We have been told that proteins are important for the accelerated recovery, in-fact, Carbohydrates are equally important.
While proteins are the building block that works to maintain hypertrophy and strength. Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel (1), you can’t expect a machine to work well without fuel, right?
Are carbs good for muscle recovery?
We are living in an era where everybody is obsessed with six-pack abs. And most of the gym instructors are calling carbs the main hurdle between you and your lean physique.
I have been asked this multiple times, Coach, “do I really need to eat carbohydrates?” or “are carbs good for muscle recovery?”.
Grinding your biggest muscle group for 60-90 minutes puts immense pressure on the body. Your body is expecting to replenish the lost energy as soon as possible.
Feeding your body to achieve a definite goal has always been the trickiest part. People are so obsessed with protein consumption that they forget to plan the right amount of carbohydrates in their meal.
Yes, feeding some carbs can help you amplify your body’s anabolic response.
Whether your goal is to gain muscle mass or lose weight, carbs play a very important role in the process.
How do carbs help the recovery process?
- Post-workout carbs trigger the secretion of insulin, a hormone responsible to transport essential aminos into muscle tissues.
- Post-workout carbohydrates help in replenishes the glycogen reserves that energize the muscle tissues.
- Carbohydrates hold water, which keeps your body hydrated and makes your muscles look fuller.
- Pre-workout carbohydrates elevate the muscle glycogen level and help in preserving muscle mass. Feeding some carbs before a workout also improves workout performance which results in better gains.
As we can see, carbs are directly and indirectly assisting in the maintenance and development of muscle mass.
Even pro-athletes on the low carb diet strategically includes some carbs in their post-workout routine to refuel the body for better performance.
One thing to note here, we are not talking about the junk carbohydrates, we are talking about a healthy source of carbs that actually supports better development. Whole grain bread, cereals, and sometimes fruits are some of my favorite choice of carbs.
Carbs after legs day
Do you know why experts schedule legs day on Saturday? That’s because your body gets a weekend off for proper recovery. Legs workouts are most brutal, for an hour, you repeatedly contract the biggest muscle which causes a lot of damage.
Let’s have a look at key tips to use carbs wisely on legs days.
How Many Carbs For Leg Day?
Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest an average healthy American diet should contain 55% of carbohydrates.
Best way to know your carbohydrate requirement it to establish your caloric needs first. If your body’s requirement is 2000 calories a day then you should be consuming 1100 calories from carbohydrates, which means you require 275 grams of carbs per day.
Ideal bodybuilder keeps the carbohydrates in the range of 40-50% of the daily diet, a 180 person will be consuming 200 grams of carbs on a daily basis.
Timing is very important when it comes to getting the best results. Planning the right amount of carbohydrates on leg day is very essential to get the best out of the workout.
Want those legs to grow? Never skip a pre-workout meal on legs day.
The intention of the pre-workout meal is to fuel your body for the superior legs day performance.
Department of Physiology, University of Cape Town Medical School, South Africa stated, Meal timing and frequency play a very important role in exercise performance and endurance.
Pre Workout meal should contain 30-35% of your body’s daily carbohydrate needs. Additionally, this meal should be protein-rich to support muscle growth.
Make sure to include a slow-digesting carb source to energize the body for an extended period of time.
Don’t confine your pre-workout meal to carbohydrates only; protein plays an important role as well. A study conducted on the role of pre-workout protein consumption on exercise performance at the School of Sport & Exercise Sciences, Univ. of Birmingham found positive changes in the anabolic response. Participants were supplemented with 20 grams of protein as a pre-workout meal.
Intra workout carbs:
Do you experience fatigue while doing heavy exercises like deadlifts, bench presses and squats? You are not the only one.
Your glycogen reserves are the primary source of energy while you perform short and high-intensity exercises (3). Heavy lifts lead to the depletion of glycogen reserves at a faster pace.
Low glycogen levels mean low energy which can certainly affect the quality of the workout.
Adding carbs in your intra-workout routine can help in elevating the performance and surely lead to better gains. Here is how carbs help in elevating intra-workout performance.
- Boost your performance, no matter whether you are trying to bulk-up or trying to lose weight, adding carbs may help in boosting performance which leads to higher metabolism and better strength gains.
- Carbs affect your mental focus too, no one can deliver peak performance with a foggy focus and low energy. Loading your muscles with required glycogen can improve your focus and ability to have a long-lasting workout.
- It doesn’t make you fat: the beauty of intra-workout carbohydrate is it doesn’t make you fat. The carb that you supplement while you workout is directly utilized as an energy supply.
- Decreases cortisol levels: yes, that’s right, Intense exercise sessions and depleting muscle glycogen can alleviate the stress hormones that are not healthy for the anabolic growth. Planning an intra-workout supplementation can help in increased growth and strength.
Legs days are exhaustive and the body might require some extensive support. Supplementing with BCAA’s and electrolytes can help in boosting performance and promoting anabolic growth.
Post-workout meal is the most important meal for muscle development and recovery, we all know that. But most of the people neglect the importance of carbohydrates in port-workout meals. Post-workout meal after an intense leg workout should be focused on the following things.
- Repairing damaged muscle tissues
- Replenishing the glycogen reserves
- Hydrating your muscle fibers
1- Repairing damaged muscle tissues
Your body requires a big portion of protein after a leg workout to do the repair work. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition listed a number of relations between the protein and exercise.
After a legs workout, you can consume as much as 40g of protein just after the completion of workout. Make sure to have a protein source rich in EAA (essential amino acids). I personally prefer whey protein, it contains a perfect blend of all essential aminos in the proper ratio.
2- Replenishing the glycogen reserves:
Your intra-workout carbohydrates are not enough to replenish the lost glycogen. While most of the people are inclined towards having a post-workout protein shake, I advise you to add a serving of carbs in it.
Consuming carbohydrates just after the exercise promotes the secretion of insulin that helps in pushing the nutrients in the muscle at a faster pace. Additionally, depletion of muscle glycogen may initiate the process of catabolism as well, adding a carb supplementation can help in switching the catabolic process into the anabolic process.
3- Hydrating your muscle fibers
Muscle building is not about protein and carbohydrates only, muscle hydration plays a very important role in fast recovery.
The process of protein synthesis requires your muscles to be well hydrated. Dehydrates muscle tissues may slow down protein synthesis which results in losing gains.
Dehydration also leads to fatigue and a reduction in focus. A good hydrating drink can supplement with all the essential minerals and vitamins which are lost during a workout. Tart cherry juice and coconut water is the best natural post-workout hydrating drink.
The portion of post-workout shake
While everyone is talking about the post-workout meal, no one is talking about the post-workout shake.
Post-workout shake should be consumed just after the exercise session, and a post-workout meal should be consumed about 60-90 minutes after training.
Why post-workout shake? Post-workout shakes are essential to me, they are easy to digest and are my best bet to feet the hungry and exhausted body.
On the other hand, post-workout diet is high in nutritional values but not the fastest absorbing.
Post leg day shake should contain 40 grams of carbs and 20 grams of protein.
Basically, post leg workout shake and a meal should contain 45% of the daily carbohydrate requirements.
How to plan carbs in the cutting phase?
Carbs should be used as a tool to fuel your muscles when they need it most.
If you are looking to trim down body fat while promoting muscle gain then carb cycling is the best strategy.
Cutting down the carbs for long periods will make the body adapt to a low carb diet, carb cycling is the way to ensure constant progress.
Planning leg days on cheat days or high carbohydrate days is the best strategy to get the best recovery without gaining fat.
Although there can be a different carb cycling meal plan, here is the simplest rule.
- 3 days of low-carb: You will be majorly focusing on isolating exercises.
- 2 days of moderate: Carb: moderate workout with some cardio.
- 2 days of high-carb: Focus on high-intensity compound movements like Squats, Deadlifts, Bench-presses, etc.
** you are not allowed to consume dirty carbs on the high carb days.
Whole food that contains healthy carbs
- Sweet potatoes
- Chocolate milk
- Fruits (pineapple, berries, banana, kiwi)
- Rice cakes
- Dark, leafy green vegetables
Recovery carbs protein ratio
Optimum carb and protein ration can help in further stimulation of protein synthesis. Carbs help in secretion of insulin which is scientifically proven to help the protein synthesis.
If you just had a heart-pounding workout session then 2:1 is the best carb & protein ratio. 3:1 ratio for bulking or weight gain.
For any regular fitness freak, 40 grams of simple carbs and 20 grams of protein after leg day is enough. If you are a guy with a big target then you can opt for a bigger serving.
After a little later, the post-workout meal should contain a bigger serving with a good amount of complex carbs to fuel your muscles for the next few hours.
Exclude the keto dieters, their body is adapted to use fats for the primary source of fuel.
Thanks for reading. Questions are welcomed in the comments as always. This site contains affiliate links as well as general health and fitness information. Please read my Medical Disclaimer and Writing Disclaimer for more information.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing
- Journal of Applied Physiology: Early Postexercise Muscle Glycogen Recovery is Enhanced with a Carbohydrate-Protein Supplement
- Shape: Ask the Diet Doctor: The Best Post-Workout Snack
- Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life; Brendan Brazier and Hugh Jackman