Carbohydrates and carbohydrate drinks, colloquially called saccharides, are a popular part of the supplementation plan of many athletes - they provide the necessary energy and help with post‑workout recovery. Carbohydrate supplements, and primarily gainers, are also a convenient way to increase caloric intake, which is especially appreciated by those trying to gain weight or build muscle mass. So what do you supplement with?
- Gainers are carbohydrate‑protein drinks, which are divided into hard (more carbohydrates) and soft gainers (more protein) according to the ratio of carbohydrates to protein.
- Energy gels provide you with vitamins, minerals and other bioactive substances in addition to carbohydrates. These are concentrated energy drinks, so be sure to drink them properly.
- All‑in‑one supplements are complex supplements of carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and other substances that can keep you full for longer. In exceptional cases, they can also serve as an occasional meal replacement.
- Single component carbohydrates such as maltodextrin, dextrose or xylitol can be used on their own, as part of protein drinks or as sweeteners.
Which carbohydrates to include when?
In a normal diet, carbohydrates account for 45‑65% of total energy intake. This figure can vary greatly if a person is gaining weight or trying to lose weight. You can follow these general tips around training or other physical activity:
- Before exercise, include complex (slow) carbohydrates, which are released gradually in the body. Oatmeal, rice, bread or a gainer can be good sources - but be careful of the source of the carbohydrate;
- during exercise it is usually not necessary to include carbohydrates. The exception to this is during long, intense activities, during which you can reach for energy gels or simple sugars;
- after exercise, you need to replenish depleted glycogen stores, which simple sugars will help you do immediately. A good post‑workout supplement can be hard gainers, which are rich in "fast sugars". Later on, complex carbohydrates are useful to supplement;
- on a non‑training day you can include a gainer or an all‑in‑one supplement to help increase your calorie intake.