The Case for Carbs Intra-Workout

The Case for Carbs Intra-Workout

For clients with the goal of building lean muscle, consuming a fast digesting, intra-workout carb can make a lot of sense. My preferred source for this option is Karbolyn or Vitargo. These are two of the fastest digesting carb sources available, engineered from natural food sources to be taken up rapidly with minimal bloating or gastric distress. Here’s four main ways that an intra-workout carb can help build muscle, shut down catabolism and increase strength.

Glycogen. Our muscles store carbohydrates as glycogen and tap into this to help fuel intense exercise (i.e. weight training). How full and hard your muscles are has a lot to do with their current glycogen storage levels and total glycogen storage capacity. You’ve often heard competitors refer to feeling or looking “flat”. This is typically related to their muscles being a little low in glycogen content and this creates a slightly ‘deflated’ looking muscle cell, instead of a hard, tight muscle cell. For every gram of glycogen that your muscles store, they draw 3 grams of water inside the cell along with it – so you can see why muscles wouldn’t look as full or hard if glycogen levels are low. Consuming an intra-workout carb like Karbolyn can help facilitate the process of muscle glycogen supercompensation – or cramming as much carbs as possible into muscle cells to help fill them out and even increase their total storage capacity.

Cortisol. Your muscles are in a constant teeter totter, balancing anabolism (building muscle) and catabolism (breaking down muscle). One of the hormones that tends to shift things toward catabolism is the hormone cortisol which can become elevated during intense training sessions or highly stressful events. Cortisol does a lot of things, including essential functions we need to live, but it can also stimulate the breakdown of muscle tissue when chronically elevated. So, if building muscle is a priority, controlling or balancing cortisol should also be important. One simple way to blunt cortisol production during a workout is to consume carbs! Carbs will stimulate the anabolic hormone insulin, which off-sets cortisol. This can be your insurance policy to protect muscles during and after training from the catabolic actions of cortisol.

Pump. One of the most potent drivers of a pump is the hormone insulin. During a workout, it can help to drive nutrients into muscle cells to swell them from the inside out for that skin-tightening feeling in the gym. This is also one of the reasons why I suggest carb sources such as Karbolyn and Vitrargo – because their rapidly absorbing properties stimulate an insulin release that will get even more carbs and anabolic nutrients like BCAAs and creatine into cells. Stack this with some of your standard pump drivers such as citrulline malate, arginine, agmatine, nitrates….and you’ve got one hell of a swole.

Strength. Your muscles will grow when they are able to lift more weight (progressive overload) for a prolonged period of time (time under tension) to full positive and negative failure (high intensity training techniques). Although most of our workouts are fueled by muscle glycogen (the carbs that have been stored in your muscles over the past 8-12 hours), our training sessions are also fueled a little by blood glucose. This where consuming an intra-workout carb can help get you through a few extra sets in the gym and push your sets to absolute failure. Carb sources like Karbolyn are digested so quickly, that they can be readily available for fuel in minutes, unlike a food source meal, which could take up to an hour. For clients that train (weights) in the morning fasted, consuming an intra-workout carb is even more essential and you will likely feel a boost in strength when adding this to your intra-workout drink.

*Note: Clients with blood sugar control issues should be careful when using intra-workout carbs such as Karbolyn and Vitargo because they do raise blood sugar, stimulate insulin and can cause a drop in blood sugar post-workout if you’re not replenishing carbs with a complex carb food source in the 30-60 minutes after your session. These clients would be better off with a more sustained-release carb such as Pentacarb (ATP Lab) or Carbion (Allmax).

Coach Sean’s Intra-Workout Carb Cocktail

-5-7 grams EAAs (or BCAAs)

-20-75 g supercarb (i.e. Karbolyn)

-glucose uptake agent (i.e. fenugreek, chromium picolinate, r-ala)

-1-2 scoops glycergrow


Vitargo and Karbolyn available at Popeye’s Supplements.

Pentacarb available at

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