EAT GOOD CARBS
The carbohydrate is probably the most misunderstood, maligned, and feared macro-nutrient. Thanks to the scores of bogus diet plans and suggestions out there, many people equate eating carbs with getting fat. While eating TOO MANY carbs can make you fat (just as eating too much protein or fat can), carbs are hardly your enemy. They play an essential role in not only muscle growth but in overall body function. Regardless of what type of carbohydrate you eat—broccoli or apple pie—the body breaks it down into two substances: glucose and glycogen. Glucose is commonly referred to as “blood sugar,” and it’s an energy source used by your cells to do the many things they do. Glycogen is a substance stored in the liver and muscles that can be easily converted to glucose for immediate energy. When you lift weights intensely, your muscles burn up their glycogen stores to cope with the overload.
Now, why is broccoli good for you but apple pie isn’t? Because your body reacts very differently to broccoli than to apple pie. You’ve probably heard the terms “simple” and “complex” carbs before and wondered what they meant. You might have also heard of the glycemic index and wondered what it was all about. These things are simple. The glycemic index is a numeric system of ranking how quickly carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body. Carbs are ranked on a scale of 0 to 100 depending on how they affect blood sugar levels once eaten. A GI rating of 55 and under is considered “low GI,” 56 to 69 is medium, and 70 and above is high on the index.
A “simple” carb is one that converts very quickly (is high on the glycemic index), such as table sugar, honey, and watermelon, while a “complex” carb is one that converts slowly (is low on the glycemic index), such as broccoli, apple, and wholegrain bread. It’s very important to know where the carbs you eat fall on the index because studies have linked regular consumption of high-GI carbs to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The amount of carbohydrates that you should eat every day depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Building muscle requires that you eat a substantial amount of carbs while dieting to lose weight requires that you reduce carbs. Regardless of how many carbs you need to eat per day, there’s a simple rule to follow regarding high-, medium and low-glycemic carbs. Eat carbs in the medium-high range of the glycemic index (70 – 90 is a good rule of thumb) about 30 minutes before you exercise, and again within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
The reason you want some carbs before training is that you need energy for your training. The reason you want them after is that your muscles’ glycogen stores are heavily depleted, and by replacing them quickly, you help your body maintain an anabolic state and not lose muscle tissue.
My favorite pre-and post-workout carbs are bananas, but other good choices are baked potato, instant oatmeal, and fruits that are above 60 on the glycemic index, such as pineapple, watermelon, dates, apricots, and figs. All other carbs you eat should be in the middle or at the low end of the glycemic index (60 and below is a good rule of thumb). It really is that simple. If you follow this rule, you’ll avoid so many problems that others suffer from due to the energy highs and lows that come with eating high-GI carbs that burn the body out.
So, forget stuff like sugar, white bread, processed, low-quality whole wheat bread, bagels, junk cereals, muffins, white pasta, crackers, waffles, rice cakes, corn flakes, and white rice. I wouldn’t even recommend eating these things often as pre-or post-workout carbs because they’re just not good for your body.
Even certain fruits, such as watermelon and dates, are bad snack foods because of where they fall on the glycemic index. If you’re unsure about a carb you like, look it up to see where it falls on the glycemic index. If it’s above 60, just leave it out of your meals that aren’t immediately before or after working out.