We’ve heard the story spouted by serious athletes, experts and supplement makers for years: carbohydrates (converted to glucose) are the preferred fuel for working muscles. After hard workouts, you must replace this fuel right away or suffer negative consequences, namely gluconeogenesis—the conversion of muscle tissue and fatty acids into glucose in the absence of ingested calories.
The truth is that gluconeogenesis is only a bad thing when you catabolize muscle tissue. When gluconeogenesis is triggered, your brain, muscles and other organs obtain a steady supply of glucose to function normally, but often at the expense of lean muscle.
You can easily prevent this catabolic effect by eating Primally. Ample consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds supplies all of your carbohydrate needs for a busy, active lifestyle. Ample fat calories will promote high satiety levels. Consume an average of 0.5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass, and your lean muscle tissue will be preserved.
If your muscles become deficient in glycogen, because of a chronic training regimen or other extreme circumstances (a growing, athletic teenager; a physically arduous job, etc.), your body will utilize ingested protein, and even fat to a lesser extent, to restock muscle tissue through gluconeogenesis. And this will happen on an as-needed basis. Your body will manufacture just enough glucose to meet metabolic needs. In contrast, obsessively fueling and re-fueling with carbs will often deliver excess glucose, which is then converted into fat and stored.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking gluconeogenesis necessarily requires muscle breakdown, or that dietary carbs are essential for muscle recovery or any other bodily function. We can function quite well on extremely limited carb intake, even if we exercise heavily. Consider Grok, who went for long stretches (as in, “seasons”) when carbs were scarce or completely unavailable, when physical activity was strenuous, and did just fine without depleting muscle mass. One more reason to eat like our ancestors!