In recent years, people have started to look closer at when to have carbohydrates throughout the week to fuel performance and help with your body composition goals.
I am going to start off and state that I HATE that this has become another diet rule. Carbohydrates aren’t something that you need to “earn” with exercise.
Your body uses carbohydrates for energy no matter what you do on a given day. You don’t need to go super low carb on days that you don’t train and you certainly don’t need to save all your carbohydrates for the “post workout window”.
However, while your body to some degree uses carbohydrates every day, it is true that your body will use MORE energy from carbohydrates on days that you’re more active, especially from anaerobic activities such as weight training. Your body uses more total calories of course, but also your body prefers carbohydrates to fuel higher intensity activities.
But does this mean you need to eat more carbohydrates on training days?
No, you don’t NEED to. But you could.
Remember that our body uses carbohydrates from two main sources – what we have stored in our body (muscle and liver) and what we’ve eaten recently.
Let’s say you have a workout after breakfast where your body uses 100 grams of carbohydrates but you only had 50 grams at breakfast. It draws on the stored carbohydrates (glycogen) to get the other 50.
As a general rule of thumb, I’d say your carbs should follow your calories. If you PREFER to eat more on training days, then it makes total sense to do that primarily via increasing carbohydrates. You want to eat more and that’s the fuel source your body wants – so that’d be a great way of using your personal preferences in a way that makes the most sense nutritionally.
On the other hand, what if that sounds like a pain in the ass and you’d really just like eat the same way every day? That works too! Find a balance of food types and macronutrients that makes you feel good and more-or-less replicate that every day. With this approach, you’ll have a little bit extra carbohydrate already “in the tank” before the day of your workout. Depending on your total calories, this could mean that your weight-stable on non-workout days and burning fat on workout days – or it could mean you’re slowly burning fat on non-workout days and burning a bit more fat on workout days.
So again…it comes down to preferences. There are pros and cons to both approaches – but they both lead to the question of “what would work best for you?”. Definitely, don’t view “save your carbs for training days” as some sort of law bestowed upon you by the nutrition gods.
Also, remember that it is total calories that primarily determined what happens with your weight – not carbohydrate intake.