Carbohydrate intake and resistance-based exercise: are current recommendations reflective of actual need?

Br J Nutr. 2016 Dec;116(12):2053-2065. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516003949. Epub 2016 Dec 20.


Substantial research has been completed examining the impact of carbohydrate (CHO) intake on endurance exercise, whereas its role in resistance-based exercise performance, adaptation and cell signalling has yet to be fully characterised. This empirical shortcoming has precluded the ability to establish specific CHO recommendations for resistance exercise. This results in recommendations largely stemming from findings based on endurance exercise and/or anecdotal evidence despite the distinct energetic demands and molecular responses mediating adaptation from endurance- and resistance-based exercise. Moreover, the topic of CHO and exercise has become one of polarising nature with divergent views - some substantiated, others lacking evidence. Current literature suggests a moderately high daily CHO intake (3-7 g/kg per d) for resistance training, which is thought to prevent glycogen depletion and facilitate performance and adaptation. However, contemporary investigation, along with an emerging understanding of the molecular underpinnings of resistance exercise adaptation, may suggest that such an intake may not be necessary. In addition to the low likelihood of true glycogen depletion occurring in response to resistance exercise, a diet restrictive in CHO may not be detrimental to acute resistance exercise performance or the cellular signalling activity responsible for adaptation, even when muscle glycogen stores are reduced. Current evidence suggests that signalling of the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1, the key regulatory kinase for gene translation (protein synthesis), is unaffected by CHO restriction or low muscular glycogen concentrations. Such findings may call into question the current view and subsequent recommendations of CHO intake with regard to resistance-based exercise.

Keywords: 1RM one repetition maximum; AMPK 5' AMP-activated protein kinase; CHO carbohydrate; mTORC1 mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1; Glycogen; Mammalian target of rapamycin; Nutrient timing; Protein synthesis; Skeletal muscle hypertrophy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Athletic Performance
  • Diet, Carbohydrate Loading* / adverse effects
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted / adverse effects
  • Diet, Healthy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Glycogen / metabolism
  • Health Promotion* / trends
  • Healthy Lifestyle*
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological*
  • Muscle Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Resistance Training*


  • Muscle Proteins
  • Glycogen