How many carbohydrates do you need for strength training?




I work with a number of clients ranging from powerlifters to ultra endurance runners and as you can imagine, how they fuel their workouts differs a lot!!!


You're probably aware that the majority of endurance training requires plenty of carbohydrates, but what about strength training? How many carbs do we need when we lift weights? If at all...


Again, it all comes down to context!


Resistance (strength) training will vary depending on a lot of different factors like volume, intensity, rest between sets and tempo (speed of repetitions), however we can broadly break strength training can be broadly categorised into:


Low rep (less than 6 reps) at high intensity (at weight greater than 85% 1RM) with longer rest periods (>3 min)

Hypertrophy (muscle building) using more repetitions (> 8), moderate intensities (weights if 60-80% 1 RM), and shorter rest periods (< 2 min)


Research suggests that glycolysis (the use of carbohydrates as fuel) is greater during hypertrophy type sessions using higher volume (volume refers to the number of muscles worked, exercises, sets, and reps during a single session). This means that glycogen, the carbohydrate stored in the liver, blood and muscles, will reduce when exercising. This reduction in muscle glycogen can lead to reduced force production, which in turn affects performance in a strength training session (1). For lower volume strength and power training, then glycogen stores will not fall as much (2).


What does this mean?


This means that more carbohydrates are required for when you do more work (number of reps and sets) at higher intensity (reaching until failure) and when muscle building is the goal, which makes sense. Whereas maximal strength and power workouts do not require the same amounts (2). However, increasing blood glucose (sugar) prior to shorter types of sessions can still help with increasing volume, duration and strength.


So, a small amount of carbohydrates before these types of sessions will be beneficial.

Daily Carbohydrate Needs


Athletes involved in low volume powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting will not require more than 1.5-3g.kg.bw per day to support training and recovery. For athletes who train 1-2 hrs per day and take part in a general fitness or gym programme, the typical carbohydrate recommendations (i.e. 45–55% or 3–5g.kg.day) will be enough to fuel high intensity interval training and high-volume resistance training.


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Further reading

1. Currell, K. (2016). Performance Nutrition. Crowood.

2. Cholewa, J., Newmire, D. and Zanchi, N. (2018). Carbohydrate Restriction: Friend or Foe of Resistance-Based Exercise Performance?. Nutrition.


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