Get Your Carb Game up to Snuff.
Carbs. It seems like these days that every nutrition guru and influencer in the industry are imploring people to avoid eating carbohydrates if they want to get the best gains. It’s a notion that may hold some water, but only for those looking to get off a ton of body fat.
However, for hard-gainers, restricting carbohydrates is a surefire way to see minimal gains. Carbs aren’t the enemy, but they can be if you’re doing things the wrong way. If you want to bulk up and get some considerable, quality muscle, then you’re going to want to consume carbs.
We are going to be covering what carbohydrates are, how to maximize their usage, and some different carbs you can consume. So, let’s dive in.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, what exactly are they? Well, for starters they are a macronutrient. Other macronutrients include proteins and fats.
But going a bit deeper than just a “macronutrient,” carbs are fuel. They are made up of fibers, starches, and sugars. These are essential food nutrients that turn into glucose, which gives your body energy the energy to function, meaning they should be a part of your diet. Carbohydrates are divided up into two categories, simple and complex.
Complex carbs are carbs that can be found in whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
These are sugars and starches that have been refined and stripped of their natural fiber and nutrients.
Which is Better?
When it comes to simple vs. complex carbohydrates, you should be aiming to consume more complex carbohydrates. Why is that? Well, to put it simply, there are far more nutrients in complex carbs. They are high in fiber and digest much slower, plus they keep you full for longer, which helps with weight control. Eating too much of simple, sugary carbs can cause weight gain, and not in the way you want!
So, how do you maximize carbs for the best gains? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.
Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when consuming carbs during a bulk.
1. Eat Carbs Around Training Time
The best way to consume your carbohydrates is around the time that you’ll be doing your training. By timing your carb consumption this way, you can ensure that you’ll have the energy to train hard while you’re at the gym. There is nothing worse than getting to the gym and having no energy. Going to the gym on an empty stomach can also lead to you feeling slightly weaker and underperforming, which results in less gains.
However, you should not only eat carbohydrates before your training but directly after as well. Since your blood sugar levels drop after a hard training session, eating carbs directly after your workout will spike your insulin levels and put you into an anabolic state for muscle growth. This is opposed to a catabolic state that will consume your muscle fibers.
So, timing your carb intake is key for gains. Think of them as fuel for your workout, as well as a refuel post workout. Aim to cycle your most carb-heavy meals around training.
2. Stick To Complex Carbs
Rather than eating a ton of breads and sugary carbs, the complex alternative should be your ideal source of carbohydrates. Oatmeal and brown rice are two examples of slow burning complex carbs that will give you sufficient energy throughout your training. This is why you see a lot of bodybuilders sticking to rice and oats as their main carb sources, it is a great food for energy.
While fruits are healthy, over consumption of sugary fruits could end up keeping and producing fat around the midsection, so limit the intake. Not to mention, stay away from those sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and sodas to name a few. However, we are not saying to not enjoy yourself every now and then. Dieting can be hard, and if you can fit in a treat sometimes, there is no reason not to!
3. Consume Carbs With Protein
Another great tip to follow is consuming carbohydrates and proteins at the same time. Eating brown rice with vegetables and a protein like chicken is an ideal meal for a bodybuilder. This will promote both higher energy levels as well as muscle growth and maintenance.
A nice rule of thumb to stick by is to avoid fats that combine fat and carbs as this will actually help to put more weight on you seeing as these types of foods are more calorie dense. Beans are also a great option as they combine slow burning carbohydrates, fiber, and protein all in one.
When Should I Restrict Carbs?
You always want to keep your carbohydrate intake under control, that is a given. Too much of anything is bad for you, and eating too many carbs can pack on a lot of fat. So, when should you actually restrict your intake of carbs?
Typically if you are trying to cut weight you will cut your carb intake. For example, during a bodybuilding contest prep you will typically see bodybuilders cutting carbohydrates week by week. This is because as carbohydrates drop, fat loss increases for them. During “peak week”, you will see bodybuilders drop their carbs to an all time low to “flatten out” and shed any extra fat and water.
Now that being said, do not just drop your carbohydrates drastically. That can have detrimental effects on your body’s physical state, which includes your gains too.
Carbohydrates are said to be the enemy of the people by many diet “gurus” and influencers. However, carbs are definitely something that can be beneficial if used properly.
Breaking them down, carbohydrates are not so simple (well some are, pun intended). Carbs can be divided up into simple and complex, and different carbs have a different affect. Meal timings, types of carbs consumed, and what you eat them with all have an impact on what they do for you.
Overall, do not avoid carbs, especially if you are trying to put on weight. They are quite literally fuel for your body and overall help with putting on size. Bodybuilders like Jay Cutler loved utilizing carbohydrates for their bulks, and look at how that turned out.
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Carbohydrates: Types & Health Benefits. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from (Source)
Cherney, K. (2020, August 19). Simple carbohydrates vs. complex carbohydrates. Healthline. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from (Source)