Myth: Carbs are overrated as recovery fuel.
Truth: “There’s no question that having enough carbohydrate in your diet after you work out to be sure muscle glycogen is restored is still the best science out there,” says Trappe.
A long or hard workout depletes your glycogen (stored sugar in your muscles that they use for fuel), and you need to replenish those stores if you want to be able to have a great workout again within the next 24 hours.
“The sooner you’re going to work out again, the more attention you need to pay to refueling efficiently and quickly,” says Monique Ryan, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes. “We know you can make back your fuel stores in 24 hours, but triathletes are often in a position of having less than 24 hours to recover between workouts.”
Conveniently, your body wants to help you out. For the first 30 to 60 minutes after exercise, the “refueling window” is open and your body is primed to restock glycogen stores efficiently. When you get home from a really long workout, you should refuel with 0.5 grams of carbs for every pound of body weight (for example: A 150-pound athlete should eat 75g), says Nancy Clark, a sports nutritionist in the Boston area and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. About two hours after that, when you’ve showered and have made lunch or dinner, you should get that amount of carbs again.
Use common sense—if you did a workout that burned 600 calories, then you don’t need to refuel with 800 calories. But if you burn thousands, then you will want that refueling snack or light meal, then you will have lunch/dinner, and then a few hours later you will probably be hungry again and get a bowl of cereal and so on. “Your body talks to you if you listen to it,” Clark says. “I encourage people to be responsible, but not obsessed with the numbers.” How many carbs you should get “is a concept, not an exact ratio. If you get more carbs than you need, you’ll have them around. If you get less, you’ll be hungry.”
So there are guidelines but they are just that—guidelines, not rules. Apply them with common sense.