Fruits vs carbs after workout

There's common belief that if conventional food during the whole day is significantly better than sports nutrition, in the post-workout period such products declass food available in stores. Well, practically speaking, the situation is not that obvious, what can be easily described on the example of carbohydrate products – conventional and of specific nutrition use.

Post-workout carbs: the aim of consumption

The recommendation of consuming carbs right after finishing physical effort is treated almost like a dogma nowadays. However, it's good to wonder about the justification for such action. In reference to after-workout recovery, three physiological effects caused by the intake of saccharides are important:

  • speeding up the resynthesis of body glycogen (muscle and liver), in other words – stronger regeneration of energetic reserves of the body useful in further activity,

  • causing the insulin response – the hormone, which not only transports carbohydrates and amino acids to cells, but which also has strong anti-catabolic properties,

  • supplying energy necessary to strengthen biochemical tracts which are the basis of recovery changes.

Additionally, it may be also somehow important, that the level of cortisol decreases and there is a change in releasing neurotransmitters (calming down the excessively induced nervous system).

However, specific attention is put on the matter of resynthesis of glycogen. It is believed that the faster particular carbohydrate product completes glycogen, the better it is, objectively, in the post-workout period. But, this issue requires to be more precise.

Glycogen – the matter of priority

There is an assumption, according to which, muscle glycogen needs to be completed as fast as possible after finishing physical activity. This statement is based on the result of research, in which it was pointed out that the pace of resynthesis of muscle glycogen is about 45% lower when carbs are served 2 hours after finishing workout, instead right after it. However, it's good to remember, that in that research, the measurements of the level of muscle glycogen were done only 8 hours after finishing physical activity. In other studies, where the measurements of the density of muscle glycogen were done 24 hours after-workout, there was no difference in its level, independently from the fact of supplying carbs right after the effort, or 2 hours later.

Therefore, the matter of consuming carbs as fast as possible after workout has another meaning when the frequency of workouts is very high (e.g. twice a day or on one evening and the next morning), However, it does not mean that the pace of completing glycogen is unimportant - it is, but in particular circumstances.

Having all those aspect clarified, we can move to the main part of this article.

Carbs, meaning what?

Carbohydrate products of “carbs” type are foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional use, which are, obviously, mostly composed of carbohydrates. However, their formula is sometimes completed with the following ingredients:

  • vitamins,

  • minerals,

  • additives, like taurine or glutamine,

  • flavor additives, colorants, aromas, sweeteners,

  • you should pay attention to the fact, that the total participation of such additives is symbolic.

The carbohydrate base of “carbs” type products are maltodextrins, i.e. compound carbohydrates, which are gained in the process of partial hydrolysis of starch (enzymatic depolymerisation). They are instantly decomposed in the digestive tract into glucose and in such form they are absorbed and used by the body. In other words, carbs are just glucose polymers, or – particles of glucose joined in chains, which are broken by the amylolitic enzymes.

What's in fruits?

Fruits, just like carbohydrate products, are also composed with sugars, whereas, they contain less percentage of this component (about 8-20%), and they are the source of glucose and fructose. And the presence of fructose is often presented as the flaw of fruits, because – as it's believed – this kind of sugar is supposed to be useless if it comes to recovering the energetic reserves of the body. Additionally, fruits, apart from water (about 75-90%), also supply some amount of:

  • vitamins,

  • minerals,

  • flavonoids,

  • fiber.

Fruits or carbs after-workout?

The result of the competition between fruits and carbohydrate products could seem obvious at first glance. After all, carbs nutritions are products created with the thought of physically active people, and fruits... well, you can it it after Sunday dinner for dessert. However, the situation is a bit different, and it would be best to consider it from the level of assessment of carbohydrates found in both types of products. The results of the study mentioned in the link below show an interesting view on this matter:

http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/278/1/E65


The authors of the experiment, to which the link you can find above, compared the influence of consuming glucose and saccharose (which is the connection of glucose and fructose) on the tempo of completing muscle and liver glycogen. It turned out, that, if it comes to muscle glycogen, there's no big difference between glucose and saccharose. Whereas, in case of liver glycogen, saccharose is twice better.

Referring the mentioned results to the aspects connected with the intake of carbs (glucose in a form of polymer) and fruits (the source of glucose and fructose, like saccharose) it should be admitted that fruits may be at least as good source of carbohydrates after workout as products dedicated to sports people! In general, the attention should be also paid to the fact that the level of liver glycogen is also an important aspect in reference to the effort abilities, what was taken under consideration in the following study:

http://ajplegacy.physiology.org/content/226/6/1387

Few words of summary

The main flaw of fruits is quite low energetic density and relatively low content of carbohydrates in general. For a 90-kilos competitor to supply 0.8g of carbohydrates per 1kg of body mass, he would have to eat, on average, 3 bananas. It may be insignificant, but many people prefer to drink carbs or vitargo (which also contains the polymers of glucose). That's why fruits may be also treated like a valuable addition (dessert) to the post-workout meal containing rice and chicken or beef with potatoes. The most important thing is to remember that fruits are not worthless if it comes to the promotion of after-workout recovery. Because of their components, they can easily compete with foodstuffs intended for particular nutritional use.