For many years, carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap as being “the villain” that will make us fat, lazy. To the uninitiated, carbs are completely eliminated from most diets. This mentality is absurd, considering many carbs have a different glycemic index (GI).
A lot of people (both nutrition experts and non) like to deny the fact that some carbs fuel our energy levels. It’s become a trend during the past decade, in the form of many “low-carb” or “no-carb” diets springing up across the board. These types of food regimens are designed to destroy any muscle gains you’re looking to make. We’ll look at why in a minute, but first we have to know that this issue becomes a grey area, as it is true that some carbs leave us bloated and spike insulin levels, making us fatigued and generally providing no nutritional value whatsoever. These types of carbs are refined carbs, such as pasta, cereal, and starchy foods.
In their simplest form, carbs are called macronutrients. They’re one of the few ways our bodies “steal” energy from calories; the other ways we get energy is from protein and fats. The human body cannot produce carbs by itself, so we turn to low-carb foods to get those plentiful nutrients.
What carbs actually do, is fuel our muscles and boost our nervous systems. They do this by preventing our bodies from using protein as an energy source. While protein itself is an energy resource, carbs actually stop our system from “eating up” more protein than it has to. When that happens, our muscles are literally being eaten away – and what happens then? Fatigue, lethargy, it’s hard to move and our systems are dramatically weakened.
To receive the maximum benefits of carbohydrates, the National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends (as a general rule of thumb) that people receive intakes of 45-65% of their total calories – from carbs.
Defining Good vs. Bad Carbs
When we consume simple carbs (which, as they’re simpler in structure, digest faster) our blood sugar levels and insulin levels spike through the roof. Think of the last time you consumed a can of cola – and how you felt “alright” afterwards and then “crashed” in just a few short minutes.
On the other end of the spectrum, the complex carbs we mentioned take a longer time to be “ingested” into your system, offering you a more sustained form of energy. This is why a lot of bodybuilders, before going to bed, will ingest cottage cheese – as cottage cheese is a complex carb and will keep their metabolism rolling along through the night.
Carbs essentially get converted into glucose in your liver. Glucose is the basic sugar that your body uses as energy for all bodily functions. When these glycogen stores get full, your body stores the carbs as fat. Carbohydrates (whether they’re simple or complex) are converted into glucose. Glucose is a basic sugar used by our body to maintain our bodily functions’ energy reserves.
When our bodies don’t use all that glucose right away, it gets transformed into glycogen which is then “stored” in our liver and skeletal muscles. When this “storage” of glycogen reaches maximum capacity, our body takes over the load – and transforms it all into fat.
Getting The Most Muscle From GI
Why are simple carbs (read: refined sugars such as processed foods, sweets, pastries, etc.) considered bad? Well, they’re usually high in calories, for starters. Not only that, they lack a lot of fiber and are low in essential nutrients and vitamins our bodies (and minds) need.
“Good carbs” or complex carbs, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains (which are all foods doctors tried drilling into our heads to eat when we were children) – are high in vitamins and nutrients. Often high in fiber, and contain little to no refined sugars; though a lot of those foods do contain sugars, this type of sugar is natural and healthy.
The GI basically measures the amount and speed a carb “runs through” your blood sugar levels. Foods that list high on the GI generally are loaded with simple carbs, and are responsible for the dramatic crash after you consume them. The harm of high GI foods have been reportedly responsible for obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These are foods such as white rice, pretzels, white bread, sugary cereals, graham crackers, and potatoes.
Low GI foods do the exact opposite: they slowly release energy (often over several hours) and keep you sated for a longer period of time. Let’s take a look at 6 foods high in healthy carbs that help you build muscle.
6 Must-Have Foods For Low GI Carbs
Now that we know a little bit more about how carbs help you build (and keep) your muscles, here are six additional foods loaded with low GI carbs that won’t destroy everything you’ve worked hard to achieve.
At 2 grams of carbs per cup, mushrooms are an excellent choice for building muscle without putting on extra weight. Mushrooms also prevent breast and prostate cancer, battle against anemia (due to their high iron levels), as well as boost the immune system. Plus, they’re versatile and can be added to almost any meal you can think of.
Celery has 1 gram of carbs per stalk – since 95% of celery is water. This makes it a great choice to add to salads, nut butter, or going classic old-school “ants on a log.”
3. Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti Squash is a beautiful thing – we consider it mother nature’s answer to spaghetti pasta. At 7g of carbs per cup, it’s no wonder that they’re an incredibly healthier alternative to conventional spaghetti. (It tastes a lot better and is a lot more fun to cook IMHO.)
Ah, the legendary avocado. Whether you love it or hate hearing about it, there’s no denying that this trending fruit is a superstar for a good reason. Half an avocado has only 8g of carbs – most of it coming rom non-digestible fiber.
I’m a personal fan of strawberries. At 11g per cup, they certainly hold the most carbs in a single “packing” than other foods on this list. Which is why a lot of bodybuilders (whether they’re cutting or bulking) put strawberries in their post-shake smoothies. BONUS: Strawberries (medium-sized) contain ~7mg of vitamin C.
6. Canned Pink Salmon
Not the most luxurious or appealing food, canned pink salmon has 0 grams per 1/2 can (depending on which brand you buy from). That means a whole can has a whopping 0g carbs. Here’s why canned pink salmon is considered a serious staple by bodybuilders: Canned salmon has high levels of omega-3 fats (which reduces cholesterol levels) and 23g of protein per serving.
As we’ve just seen, carbs should never be excluded from your diet. They should be embraced as what they are: another tool to help you build muscle, and more importantly keep your muscle, as well as preventing many health diseases we talked about before. It really is as simple as switching certain foods for other ones, as you’ve just seen.