For years now, numerous fad diets have led us to believe that Carbohydrates are the root of all evil. I’m sure you’ve all heard a few pearls of wisdom such as “avoid all carbs if you want to get lean” or the classic “never eat carbs after 4pm”. Well I’m here to tell you that you can eat carbs and still get lean; and that skimping on the carbs may be to the detriment of your gains.
Now I’m sure that any one of you could tell me about the importance of protein for building muscle, but I’m presuming a lot of people couldn’t tell me the role of the Carbohydrate; and for this reason it is often overlooked in diet planning. In this article we’re going to take a look at the types of carbohydrates, and how to integrate them into your diet based on your fitness goals.
Carbohydrates – Simple vs. Complex
On a molecular level, simple carbohydrates are made up of just one or two sugar molecules. They are rapidly digested making them the quickest source of energy.
Complex carbohydrates on the other hand, are made of multiple sugar molecules strung together like a coil. They provide a more sustained release of energy and due to their sources are often rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
|Table Sugar||Green Vegetables|
|Fruit Juices||Sweet Potato|
|Soft Drinks||Basmati Rice|
Carbohydrates and the Bodybuilder
So this is where it gets a little more interesting! We’re now going to take a look at a six simple rules on how to best integrate carbohydrates in to your diet to achieve your goals.
1. Eat complex carbohydrates
As we touched on briefly, complex carbohydrates are slow burning and therefore provide you with longer lasting energy. The slow burning nature of complex carbs also help to keep your blood sugar levels more constant. This is beneficial in not only reducing fatigue, but helping to avoid the crash often experienced after eating simple sugars. Crashes that lead to hunger cravings - usually of similar sugars that caused them!
More stable blood sugar levels can also assist with the reduction of fat storage. A benefit that any bodybuilder dieting for a show, or in the off season would be grateful for.
2. Eat carbs straight after your workout
Following a workout your body is depleted of glycogen and glucose. So much so, that you can begin to release the hormone cortisol, which turns to muscle tissue for protein and converts it to glucose. In order to avoid this muscle catabolism and make the gains you’re after, getting enough of the right carbohydrates is essential!
For many years it has been common practice for bodybuilders and performance athletes alike to ingest only simple carbohydrates post training, however recent studies have found that combining fast and sustained release carbs after training can be extremely anabolic. Let’s take a look at how combining slow, medium and fast acting carbs can enhance your muscle recovery and growth after training.
Simple sugars, or fast acting carbs, are essential for replacing the glycogen stores depleted from hard training. In addition, simple carbs will stimulate protein synthesis and the hormone insulin, a key mass builder.
Medium absorbing carbs help to stabailise insulin and maintain good energy levels. They also act as a fuel for the metabolic processes required for normal activity and growth. These types of carbs include Maltodextrins, Waxy Maize and Fruit Sugar Extract.
Slow acting carbs such as potato and rice starches act by drip feeding your system over several hours. This keeps your energy levels constant and your metabolism anabolic.
3. Eat high fibre carbohydrates
Fibre is a nutrient commonly overlooked by not only the bodybuilder, but by the general population. Put very basically, fibre is the part of the plant that is indigestible by the human body. The following are just some of the positive effects of fibre on biological function:
- Aids in digestion
- Important for bowel health
- Assists in weight loss
- Lowers cholesterol
Now let’s take a more specific look at the role fibre takes in the function of a bodybuilder or performance athlete.
- The addition of fibre to your diet slows down the digestion process, in turn keeping you fuller for longer. A positive for anyone dieting or trying to control their caloric intake.
- Fibre increases the efficiency and level at which amino acids are absorbed by muscle tissue, hence increasing muscle growth and recovery.
- A lot of the high fibre carbohydrates (ie. Green Vegetables) are not very calorie dense. This means you can eat are large amount of them without adding excessive calories to your diet. A big plus when your dieting!
4. Eat small portions of carbohydrates more frequently
Much like the main benefit of point one, eating smaller quantities of carbs more frequently ensures you maintain steady insulin levels. The benefit of this being steady energy level and reduced risk of sugar cravings.
Eating large quantities of carbs in one sitting that go unused also increase the risk that they will be stored as body fat.
5. Eat carbohydrates with your protein
There are two theories behind this:
- By eating carbs with your protein they are less likely to be stored as fat. Due protein being more difficult to digest your body requires more calories and your metabolism is increased.
- Carbohydrates promote insulin release which is responsible for transporting nutrients into muscle cells, intern promoting growth and repair.
6. Eat fruit, but not too much
Fruit is a tricky one! Yes, it is high in vitamins and low in calories, but it also contains the simple sugar fructose. Fructose is converted by the body into glycogen which is stored by the liver until it is used as energy. Where the problem lies is that the liver can only store 100-120g of glycogen, with the excess being converted and stored as fat.
So although I am not saying fruit should be cut out of the diet all together, it is important to know those fruits that have a lower glycaemic index and time your intake of the others. Try to consume them post exercise when you have depleted your glycogen stores.
Hopefully you now realise it’s not just about protein! Carbohydrates play in important role in not only the day to day function of your body, but in helping you achieve your fitness goals. By following these six simple rules you’ll be another step closer to the physique you’re chasing!