Carbohydrates Timing

Carbohydrates Timing – When Should I Eat Them?

If you want to optimize your performance and physique, you need carbohydrates. Now the question is, when should you eat carbohydrates?

In this post we'll go through what carbohydrates are and how they can help you optimizing performance and muscle metabolism. Then, we'll discuss the best moments to take carbohydrates and the science behind.

Stay tuned and enjoy the post!


Carbohydrates are organic biomolecules formed by carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O).

With the formula Cx(H2O)y, carbohydrates are present in their linear or cyclic structure (source).


The simplest form of carbohydrates are called monosaccharides, formed by a single saccharide.

These are the building blocks of all other carbohydrates, called polysaccharides (study)

Carbohydrates Structure

Carbohydrates, together with proteins and fats, make up 99% of our metabolism (study), with the other 1% referring to vitamins and minerals.

Each maconutrient plays a different role in your organism. They interplay between them to optimize the metabolic work and make it more efficient.

While proteins and fats are essential, carbohydrates are not.

If you didn't include them in your diet, you would survive; this is the principle of the ketogenic diet (study)

Because carbohydrates are non-essential, people is starting to remove them from their diets, without knowing how much they can actually help you (specially if you practice some kind of sport).

If you want to know why carbohdrates are good for you... click on the button below!

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Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates can be classified based on the complexity of their structure. Here we have two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are composed by less than three monosaccharides joined together.

Complex carbohydrates are larger molecules formed by more than three monosaccharides. 

carbohydrates classification

Why Are Carbohydrates Important?

Carbohydrates play an important role in your metabolism.

You could live without carbohydrates on your diet, but your body needs to replace them with other molecules; ketone bodies (study)

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Energy Metabolism

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy (study).

With available carbohydrates, your metabolism will convert them into glucose or fructose to enter the Central Metabolism (study).

carbohydrates metabolism

The central glucose metabolism is composed by:

  1. Glycolisis: Oxidation of glucose into pyruvate in the cytosol (study)
  2. Citric Acid Cycle: Conversion of pyruvate into Acetyl-CoA and yield of reduced cofactors and direct energy. Happens in the mitochondria (study)
  3. Oxidative Phosporylation: Electron transport chain to produce 30-32 ATP in the inner membrane of the mitochondria (study)

The first two steps don't require oxygen. However, oxidative phosphorylation does require oxygen.

Glucose metabolism is the primary energy pathway when doing aerobic exercise (study).

Carbohydrates can also help you improve your anaerobic performance. Your body can store glucose as glycogen, which can be used for energy production when glucose is absent (study).

Glucose can also be oxidized through anaerobic fermentation, yielding lactic acid (study)

You can benefit from carbohydrates both during aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

Eating carbohydrates before and after your workout session will help delaying fatigue and improving performance (study)

Insulin Response

Carbohydrates induce insulin production and release. When blood glucose is available, insulin transports glucose to the cell and lets it enter by the receptor GLUT-4 (study).

Insulin and carbohydrates

Insulin can help you build muscle, being one of the most anabolic hormones in your organism.

It increases muscle protein synthesis (study), and it inhibits proteolysis.

If carbohydrates stimulate insulin secretion and insulin can help you improve yuor performance and build muscle... maybe carbohydrates are not that bad after all!

Insulin meme

All About Carbohydrates Timing

When should you eat carbohydrates? What's about carbohydrates timing?

As a general rule, the best times for carbohydrate intake are:

  • Pre-workout
  • Intra-workout
  • Post-workout
  • Night time

Timing of Carbohydrates To Lose Weight

If you want to lose weight, a good nutrition provides the correct energy status to favour fat loss and consequently lose weight (study).

The total energy intake along the day is what matters the most for weight loss. However, there are other factors affecting the process.

Carbohydrates are sources of fibre. High fiber intakes improve your gut microbiota and keep you full for longer (study).

Carbohydrates intake 2-3h before workout can help you delaying muscle fatigue and improving performance (study).

In some studies, carbohydrates in the morning favour weight loss (study).  Some others show the opposite (study).

Athough carbohydrates intake may affect weight loss, it's the total energy intake what determines if we lose weight or not.

carbohydrates timing

Timing of Carbohydrates To build Muscle

Carbohydrates trigger insulin secretion, one of the most anabolic hormones (study).

High levels of insulin post-workout may help you achieve a greater anabolic response.

Carbohydrates post-workout can, therefore, help you build muscle (study).


Building muscle needs of very high calorie intakes.

carbohydrate is the most versatile component of our diet. the higher the calorie intake, the higher the carbohydrates intake.

Because of the excess of this macronutrient, carbohydrates timing is not as important as it is when you try to lose weight. 


Timing of Carbohydrates To Optimize Recovery and Performance

Carbohydrates timing play a central role on muscle recovery and training performance.

Training requires of large amounts of energy, coming from different energy systems.

Carbohydrates intake after the training session can help you refill glycogen stores (study) and optimize muscle recovery (study).


Carbohydrates pre-workout can also improve your training performance (study).

By increasing blood glucose and glycogen stores, it delays muscle fatigue and lowers percieved exertion during exercise.

Timing of Carbohydrates when Following Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting is a popular protocol alternating between eating and fasting periods (study).

Its potential benefits on health and body composition have made it one of the most following nutritional protocols.

intermittent fasting meme

During the fasting period, all calories and foods are restricted.

If you train during the fasting period, carbohydrates intake as soon as you enter your eating window may be important in this case.


Intermittent fasting diets are usually low in carbohydrates. However, you can perfectly follow a high-carbohdyrate intermittent fasting.

Focus on getting your carbohydrates close to the training session, and high-fibre sources on your last meal before the fasting period.


Carbohydrates timing is a fact to consider in your diet. carbohydrates are important for your metabolism and energy production.

In this post we reviewed the best times to take carbohydrates: close to exercise and before bed. However, these general recommendations differ depending on your situation.

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