What foods can rapidly replenish muscle glycogen stores?

For fast glycogen replenishment, athletes should have 5 meals with at least 84g of carbs every 2 hours. The first meal should be immediately after exercise. Eating foods rich in carbs, such as bread, potatoes, pasta, vegetables, fruits, and even candy can significantly increase the synthesis of muscle glycogen. Also, protein intake is crucial for faster replenishment of glycogen stores.

Why are high glycogen levels important for athletes?

Muscle glycogen plays a key in sport performance, fatigue, and recovery after exercise. Full muscle glycogen stores significantly increase aerobic endurance. High glycogen levels are crucial for strenuous exercise lasting more than 90 minutes. Athletes feel fatigue once muscle glycogen stores are depleted.

Glycogen is actually glucose stored in the liver and muscles. It’s an instant source of fuel for the muscle tissue.

The body stores glycogen when we consume more carbs than we need. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles.

But, glycogen isn’t the only source of energy in the body. In fact, glycogen is only a small portion of the body’s stored energy. Actually, body fat is the main source of energy. But, fat is burned slowly. Explosive exercise or training at a high VO2max demands high amounts of glycogen. Glycogen produces energy much faster than fat.

Reduced glycogen stores are bad for sport performance

If glycogen stores are depleted, the body will burn more fat, and protein. But, this could lead to decreased performance, fatigue, muscle soreness, muscle breakdown, and delayed muscle recovery!

How can athletes restore muscle glycogen?

The body stores approximately 450-550g of glycogen within the muscle tissue and the liver.[1] This amount of glycogen is enough for 90 to 120 minutes of intense exercise.

Glycogen burns rapidly, but empty glycogen stores can take more than a day to be restored. They’re replenished at a rate of 2-5% per hour after exercise.

Consuming carbs right after exercise can significantly increase the replenishment rate of glycogen. In fact, the first 2 hours after exercise are crucial for fast glycogen replenishment.

In general, the human body can synthesize 2% of glycogen per hour. But, according to studies, this rate can rise up to 5% with the consumption of 50g of carbs every 2 hours after exercise. Additionally, even many small doses of carbs of 28g every 15 minutes seem to further increase the repletion rate of glycogen.

In most cases, muscle glycogen stores need at least 20 hours to be fully replenished. Even with optimal diet.

Therefore, as glycogen levels need many hours to be completely replenished, what you ate yesterday is more important for your energy levels than the food you’ll eat today!

What is the fastest way to fill glycogen stores?

Athletes who need the fastest glycogen replenishment and muscle recovery should have 5 meals every 2 hours after exercise, containing a total of at least 400g of carbs and 100g of protein. Your first meal should be as soon as possible after exercise!

Eat carbs immediately after exercise!

Glycogen synthesis is a slow process. Maximizing the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis is vital for fast muscle recovery and increased energy levels.

Above all, to maximize the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis, it’s vital to consume carbs immediately after exercise, or as soon as possible!

After exercise, muscle insulin sensitivity is significantly increased. Muscle can absorb more glucose! Right after exercise, the rate of glycogen synthesis is 50% higher, as compared to several hours after a workout.[2]

How many carbs do athletes need for optimal glycogen restore?

According to many studies, the amount of carbs, the frequency and the timing of meals all play a key role in glycogen replenishment.

Athletes should consume a high-carb meal immediately after exercise, followed by many other frequent high-carb meals to rapidly increase muscle glycogen levels.

One study reported that a total carbohydrate dose up to 550-625g per day can restore muscle glycogen stores to pre-exercise levels within only 22 hours. Another study found that 3100 kcal of carbs (775g carbs) can completely restore glycogen stores within 24 hours.[1]

In order, to maximize muscle glycogen storage, athletes should continually have high-carb snacks. In fact, athletes can significantly improve the rate of glycogen synthesis having a high-carb meal every 2 hours! Furthermore, athletes should consume about 0.6-0.7g of carbs per kg of body weight per hour.

For instance, a 70 kg (155 lb) athlete should have 5 meals every 2 hours after exercise, with 84g of carbs per meal. So, this athlete should consume about 420g of carbs the first 8 hours after exercise to maximize muscle glycogen storage.

Moreover, athletes could further increase the rate of glycogen synthesis having high-carb snacks every 15-30 minutes. The glycogen synthesis further increases by approximately 30%! Also, adding some protein can further increase the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis!

Foods rich in carbs which help athletes restore muscle glycogen fast

Athletes should eat a variety of carbohydrate foods. You better prefer high-quality, nutrient-rich carbohydrates, such as potatoes, whole cereal, corn flakes, pasta, bread, beans, vegetables, and fruits.

A combination of simple (monosaccharides, disaccharides, maltodextrins) and complex (starches and fibers) carbohydrates along with a variety of micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is ideal for fast muscle recovery.[3]

On the contrary, endurance athletes should avoid eating fiber before a long race.

These sources of carbs can be quickly digested, and absorbed by muscles for fast restoration of glycogen stores. Furthermore, right after exercise we can have high-glycemic carbs, such as white bread or sugar. These foods can further maximize the rate of glycogen synthesis.

Moreover, athletes who have to compete in less than 24 hours, the total amount of consumed carbs is more crucial than the frequency of meals.

Add protein to your post workout meal for faster muscle recovery!

Moreover, athletes should consume protein in their post workout meal. Strenuous exercise causes muscle tissue damage, due to physical stress on the muscle, as well as hormonal changes. Without protein intake, exercise may lead to breakdown of muscle protein to provide fuel for muscle contraction.

Most noteworthy, muscle damage doesn’t occur only during exercise. It goes on after exercise for many hours. Furthermore, muscle damage can inhibit the replenishment of muscle glycogen.

Therefore, athletes should consume protein along with carbs in their post workout meals. Getting carbs with protein accelerates muscle recovery.

For optimal glycogen synthesis, athletes should consume protein to a 4:1 ratio. 1g of protein per 4g of carbs!

The addition of protein to a high-carb post workout meal increases the rate of glycogen synthesis by approximately 38% over the first 4-hours of recovery!