Carbohydrates consist of chemical molecules that are known as sugars, like glucose or sucrose (table sugar), or many sugar molecules joined together into chains that make up starchy foods like potato and rice. These starchy foods are often referred to complex carbs.
From a nutritional perspective there carbohydrate foods that are highly nutritious and support muscle growth, while there are other carb based foods that have very little nutritional value at all and are simply empty calories.
When you are trying to gain mass and strength getting enough good quality carbs is essential. When you are training to get lean and ripped, moderating your carb intake is important but carbs are still a key element in a balanced fat stripping diet.
In most instances, your carbs should be of the complex type, sourced mainly from less processed foods. Less processed carbohydrate foods generally are slower digesting and give you an even and sustained release of energy to keep you energized all day. Foods like oats, brown rice, sweet potato, corn, beans and lentils are good sources of slower digesting carbs and should be the bulk of your carb intake. Fibrous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, string beans, lettuce and capsicum are also important carb foods to include in your diet. They are high in fibre, low in starchy carbs and fat, but high in many types of micronutrients including vitamins, minerals and other plant chemicals that boost health and muscle growth.
Fruit, like vegetables, is another great sources of carbs and micronutrients. Some fruits are relatively high in sugar so we recommend limiting fruit intake to about 2 – 3 pieces per day on a mass gain diet and 1 piece per day on a get lean diet.
How much carb food should you consume each day? Our general guidelines are:
- For a Mass Gain program we recommend about 4 – 5 grams of carbs per kg of body weight per day. For example, if you are an 80kg trainer with an average body fat of 15 – 20%, then you need 80 x 4 – 5 = 320 – 400 grams of good quality carbohydrate per day, which is quite an amount of food.
- If you are training to strip fat and build lean muscle then we recommend around 1 – 2 grams of carbs per kg of body weight (1 gram for strict dieting and faster fat loss, 2 grams for more moderate and sustained loss). For the same 80kg trainer this means around 80 – 160 grams of carbs per day. Our meal plans take care of these numbers so all you have to do is follow the diet.
There are many forms of carbohydrates that you should limit or eliminate from your diet if you want to build a healthy muscular body. As a general rule, the more processed the food, the more you should avoid it. Sugar and all foods that are high in sugar like sweets, syrups, soft drinks and fruit juices should be avoided. Foods made from white flour, or a combination of white flour, sugar and fats like cakes, white bread, biscuits and many forms of snack food or fast food should be avoided. Highly processed carbs are absorbed by your body very quickly, but just as quickly are usually converted to fat and stored around your body in adipose tissue. Quite simply, a diet high in processed carbs will increase your body fat.
There is one exception to this. During a hard workout your body, particularly your trained muscles, become quite depleted in the stored carbs called glycogen that your body uses to produce energy. Immediately after your workout your muscles become hyper sensitive to nutrient uptake and will absorb proteins to repair muscle tissue and carbs to replenish energy store at many times their normal rates. This window of opportunity lasts only about 60 minutes, so we always recommend that hard trainers consume a recovery formula that contains fast acting proteins and fast absorbing simple sugars as soon as possible after their workout to maximize recovery and growth. This can be a good protein and carb formula like MAX’S Supersize, or you can simply add milk to your high protein formula (like MAX’S SuperShred) and eat some fruit like a banana.