Carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad reputation in the last few years. People have made the drastic switch from a low-fat diet to a low-carb diet, all but eliminating carbs from their menus. This led to a lot of health problems, as the human body needs carbs in order to function. As one study proved, carbs are even more important after an intense workout.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found carbs are the best food to help protect your body after intense exercise. Specifically, they will prevent infections from setting in following a high-intensity workout. You see, exercise causes a brief period of reduced immune function, or immunosuppression right after the workout. For a short amount of time, your white blood cell count is reduced, as are circulating lymphocytes. This leaves your immune system weakened and vulnerable to infections.
Our bodies scramble to try and protect themselves after a workout, but this can lead to susceptibility to illness. The more strenuous the workout, the longer your body needs to recover. It’s why high-intensity exercise is known to increase the risk of infections—such as upper respiratory infections.
But the consumption of carbohydrates immediately following your workout can help to avoid the negative immune system changes. Eating carbs during and right after your workout provides the glucose and fructose your body turns into energy. It also helps to sustain your blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces your body’s stress response and stops your immune system from being compromised. Just 30 to 60 grams of carbs within the first hour or two after your workout can make all the difference.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Governator himself, made post-workout carb consumption popular decades ago. Carbs are the ideal recovery food, as they provide the glucose your body needs to replenish burned glycogen. Most protein powders contain some carbs along with the protein, which is why they are such a great post-workout recovery choice.
But even if you’re not taking protein powder, you should still add some carbs into your post-workout snack. Just a few grams (30-60) should do the trick. Not only will it help to stabilize your immune system, but it will ensure that you have plenty of energy after finishing the workout. You’ll avoid the post-exercise fatigue that makes you feel sleepy and low-energy for the rest of your day. Best of all, your body will be protected against illness and infection.
1. Jonathan M. Peake, Oliver Neubauer, Neil P. Walsh, Richard J. Simpson, “Recovery of the immune system after exercise.” Journal of Applied Physiology, published 1 Dec 2016, 0DOI:10.1152/japplphysiol.00622.2016.