Pity the poor, beleaguered carbohydrate. Long castigated for its role in
turning a six-pack into a snack-pack and often nutritionally degraded by the
food industry, many health-savvy individuals are left wavering about its role
in a physique-minded eating plan. Some fear
carbohydrates more than last week’s mystery meat. Well, good news for pasta and cereal lovers. If
you put the right carbs in the right amounts at the right time in your pie hole
(Ed. note: No, not pie), you can
bolster your fitness gains and go from scrawny to brawny. We’ve ID’d 10 rules
of carbohydrate eating that will help you get over any aversion to the C word.
Rule No. 1: Low-carb diets can backfire.
Typically, when someone aspires to
improve their buff-to-blubber ratio, one does it with a sense of urgency.
Impulsively, carbohydrates are often severely slashed in pursuit of this
well-intentioned goal. Sure, too many carbohydrates, particularly the wrong
kind, can make you more sloppy than sliced, but dietitian Jim White, RD, a
spokesman for the American Dietetic Association and owner of Jim White Fitness &
Nutrition Studios in Virginia Beach, Va., (jimwhitefit.com) says drastic cuts
can cause your metabolism to sputter, making it harder to have a better
six-pack … or a six-pack, period. “A diet with too few carbs can also leave you
feeling sluggish, so all you want to do is hit the couch instead of the gym,”
he adds. Instead of putting carbs on the chopping block, make them work for you
by following the guidelines contained herein.
Rule No. 2: Get big with more carbohydrates.
Normally, when you think about
sculpting muscle, the first thing to come to mind is protein. After all, it’s
protein that helps repair and build muscle after a stiff workout. However,
without packing your muscles with glycogen, you have as much chance of gaining serious size
as Michael Vick does becoming a spokesman for PETA. Glycogen is
the collection of carbohydrates stored inside muscle cells and is the most
easily accessible source of energy to fuel training. “With more glycogen, you
can lift more weight for longer periods, helping elicit muscle growth,” White
says. What’s more, carbs love water, and when you store them as glycogen, H2O
comes along for the ride. This intracellular hydration looks and feels like
added muscle and gives your muscles a fuller appearance. Carbohydrates in the diet
also provide a source of calories that are vital for putting on size. After
all, there is only so much chicken breast you can eat.
If you’re training
to put on overall size, White says you should aim for 1.5 to 2 grams of
carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight. So to gain mass, a 180-pound person can
consume 270 to 360 grams of carbs daily. “Hardgainers may want to concentrate
on the higher end of this range,” White says. Monitor your body fat, and if you
find it’s inching too much upward, you can cut back a bit. Online tools such as
NutritionData.com can help you track your carbohydrate intake.
Rule No. 3: Know when to scale
When your goal is to get lean and
ripped to the bone as opposed to putting on overall size, we recommend
curtailing carbohydrate intake to less than a gram per pound of bodyweight. This
helps encourage the body to burn more fat for fuel. The easiest way to
implement this step is to reduce your carbohydrate portions at meals. Instead
of a full bagel, for example, have a small slice of whole-grain bread. Toss
only berries into your shakes instead of berries and a banana. Try half a cup
of rice instead of a full cup. On days when you don’t train, you can cut back
slightly more. If you find that your energy levels are sagging or your muscles
are looking a little soft, add back in an extra portion to see whether that
Rule No. 4: Prioritize “whole”
Like sports cars, not all
carbohydrates are created equal. Slower-digesting, whole-food carbs such as
oats, quinoa, brown rice, legumes and vegetables should constitute the bulk of
your daily carbohydrate intake (with the exception being rules No. 6 and No. 9).
These edibles result in a less drastic rise in blood sugar than their more
processed counterparts such as white bread and most boxed cold cereals, which
impedes hunger and fat storage. According to researchers at Tufts University in
Boston, people who regularly eat whole grains rather than refined grains pack
on less fat in their midriffs. Not only does fat in this area look unsightly,
but it also can put you on the road to heart disease. “Don’t overlook that
these carb sources help you stockpile valuable minerals, vitamins and
antioxidants that will improve training results,” White says. Nuts, seeds and
unsweetened dairy also supply smaller amounts of carbs and can be considered
beneficial whole-food sources.
Rule No. 5: Rise and dine.
Your breakfast repast is no time to
skimp on carbs. “You need carbohydrates at breakfast to replace glycogen stores
that have been used up during the overnight fast and to boost blood sugar so
you have energy to tackle the day,” White says. Providing carbohydrates also
helps turn off early-morning muscle catabolism. Researchers at the University
of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found that when subjects consumed a
high-fiber, low-glycemic breakfast, they burned more fat during subsequent
exercise and had higher levels of satiety than those who noshed on a high-glycemic,
fiber-poor breakfast. So to start your day the right way, think rolled oats
instead of the sweetened instant variety, an orange instead of orange juice,
whole-grain toast instead of an elephantine muffin on the go.
Rule No. 6: Think fast after
carbohydrates tend to create a large surge of the anabolic hormone insulin
streaming through your blood. Normally, this would not be ideal because insulin
can promote fat storage, but postworkout, White says high insulin levels drive
recovery nutrients such as creatine, glucose and amino acids into muscle cells
to restock glycogen (to be used for your next gym session) and stymie further
muscle breakdown while encouraging its growth. Case in point: University of
Texas researchers discovered that subjects who consumed a carbohydrate-protein
supplement following exercise had higher levels of enzymes that promote muscle glycogen
and protein synthesis.
carbohydrate choices, try white bagels, rice cakes, juice, white pasta or rice,
white spuds, or a carb-rich sports drink to get more bang from your workouts.
“Aim for 0.3 to 0.6 grams of fast-acting carbs per pound of bodyweight within
the first hour after working out,” White advises. “Hardgainers or those
engaging in high-volume, exhaustive exercise on a regular basis should aim for
the upper end of this range.”
Rule No. 7: Go slow before
In contrast to after workouts, you
want to focus on slow-digesting carbohydrates before a sweat session. Eating a
small amount, 20 to 40 grams, of slower-burning carbs found in whole-grain
bread, sweet potato, oatmeal or fruit like a banana, 30 to 45 minutes before
you train, provides a steady supply of carbohydrates during exercise to keep
energy levels up so you can push serious weight. Refined carbohydrates before a
workout can spike insulin levels, causing your blood sugar to fall faster than
a Major League splitter, leading to an energy crash and hampering fat-burning
during the exercise.
Rule No. 8: Stop carbs at dinner.
To keep your fat-burning furnace
hot while you snore away, keep your carb intake very low before bed. Metabolism
slows during the wee hours, so it’s more likely that carbohydrates from the
diet will be stored as doughy body fat. Carbohydrates also can put a damper on
growth-hormone release during sleep. Growth hormone encourages muscle recovery
and growth while at the same time promoting fat burning. The upshot is that a
pre-bed snack should contain mainly slow-digesting protein; try a casein shake
or low-fat cottage cheese. “The one exception to this rule is if you train late
at night,” White says. “If so, you still need to consume carbs postworkout to
facilitate recovery.” If your goal is to lose body fat and you’re training at
this time, cut your postworkout carb intake to 20 to 30 grams of fast-digesting
Rule No. 9: Use the one-hour
When engaging in sustained
high-intensity exercise for periods longer than one hour, a spate of research
says that you can get a boost from consuming fast-acting carbs such as those
found in sports drinks and gels. “This prevents the detrimental drop in blood
glucose and muscle glycogen that can slow muscular contraction and speed up the
onset of fatigue, causing you to exercise less intensely,” White says. He
suggests consuming 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates for each hour of exertion.
Interestingly, UK researchers have reported that consuming two or more
different forms of carbohydrates, such as glucose, fructose and maltodextrin,
during exercise is more effective at improving performance than just taking in
Rule No. 10: Find fiber.
One form of carbohydrate almost all
Americans can use more of is dietary fiber. “The average American only consumes
half as much as they should, which is between 25 and 35 grams each day,” White
says. “This is no good because fiber helps fight a number of chronic diseases
and keeps you feeling full by slowing down digestion.” So noshing on fiber
makes it less likely you’ll give into the cake demon perched on your shoulder.
A 2010 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
that followed nearly 90,000 individuals for six-and-a-half years discovered
that those who ate the most fiber were less likely to pack on body fat. Among
the fiber powerhouses that can take a sledgehammer to hunger pangs are beans,
lentils, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Twinkies? Not so much.
These carbohydrate-rich supplements
can help you achieve serious fitness and physique gains.
Waxy Maize Starch
Contrary to prior thought, this
carbohydrate is particularly slowly digested, so add it to your preworkout
shakes to fuel grueling workouts.
A far cry from their sawdust
forerunners, fiber powders can help you meet your daily quota and keep you
feeling full. Use with meals.
Use this powder with a 4-to-1 carbohydrate-to-protein
ratio for fuel during long workouts and afterward to speed up recovery. Add a
scoop or two of whey for the perfect postworkout shake.
Packed with fast-acting
carbohydrates, sucking back a gel during extended aerobic exercise can help you
get to the finish line. Make sure to consume gels with plenty of water.
Made up mostly of the carbohydrate
fructose, this super-sweet liquid sweetener has a lower glycemic index than
most other sweeteners, so it won’t spike blood sugar. Use it to add a sweet
kick to baked goods, yogurt, cottage cheese and drinks.