A very good question has been asked over on our Facebook Fan Page:
Before we go any further I’d like to say something – vegetables are carbohydrates too! They aren’t a fourth food group bringing up the rear behind protein, ‘carbs’ and fat.
Ming is asking whether or not she should include starchy carbs, such as brown rice or potatoes, in her post-workout meal.
Keeping starchy carb consumption confined to the early meals of the day and avoiding them during afternoons and evenings, if you want to get ripped and show off a six-pack, is a well documented approach used by many.
However, consuming starchy carbs after resistance training is also necessary for restoring muscle glycogen levels and inhibiting the loss of muscle mass.
BUT wait!! What of the widespread belief that eating (starchy) carbs at night will make you fat?!
You can see Ming’s dilemma!
The answer to her question is this:
Questions like Ming’s stem from the MASS of conflicting information about carbs: which ones to eat, when to eat them, when to avoid them like the plague and when those same ‘don’t ever eat them’ carbs can actually work for you and so on.
Here’s a quick Carb 101, for you, to make things a little clearer…
A Biology Lesson
Just like a car, our bodies need fuel to function and its fuel options are: glucose, fat and protein (although, protein is a muscle builder and we really don’t want it being used as fuel at all, if we can possibly avoid it.)
Fat fuel comes from our reserved fat stores, but what about the glucose?
It comes from carbohydrates – chains of sugar molecules in food that are broken down by the liver to produce glucose. This increase in glucose triggers the pancreas to release insulin which transports the glucose to your cells so it can be used as energy.
Produce too much glucose and the body will store it in your liver and muscles as glycogen, ready to be used when we need an extra quick burst of energy; excess glycogen, that can’t be stored in the liver or muscles, is safely stored away as fat for future energy use.
Our muscles can store approximately 400g of glycogen (1,600 calories) and your liver 100g (400 calories).
Good Carbs, Bad Carbs
Carbohydrates can be divided into different groups and categories; some are good, some are not so good and some are just downright bad:
- Simple and Complex
- Refined and Natural
- Complex starchy and complex fibrous
- High and Low Glycemic
Simple and Complex Carbohydrates
Simple carbs are absorbed quickly because their chain of sugar molecules is short (one or two); they will produce a rapid rise in blood sugar levels and trigger a surge of insulin to balance it.
Consume too many simple carbs and you’ll soon be storing all that extra glucose as fat; you don’t have to cut out simple carbs completely (unless they’re refined ones, see below), just be mindful about the quantities you consume.
Complex carbs contain chains of sugar molecules joined together in their thousands. The body has to work much harder to break them down so digesting them takes far longer than for their simple cousins.
Due to this slow absorption, energy is released at a steady rate which helps to stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels.
- Examples of simple carbs: fructose (natural sugar found in fruit), lactose (natural sugar in dairy products), glucose (blood sugar), sucrose (the sugar you put in coffee)
- Examples of complex carbs: potatoes, brown rice, wholewheat bread, whole grains and vegetables
Refined and Natural
REFINED CARBOHYDRATES are the bad guys and should be avoided at all costs if you want to get into shape, stay in shape and carve yourself a six-pack.
Refined, or processed, carbs – wholewheat flour refined into white flour, for example – have had all their complexity removed and, consequently, have exactly the same effect on the body as simple carbohydrates.
All the digestive hard work has been done for them and their mass of calories will very quickly send you crashing though your calorie ceiling – your fat cells will love you for it, your jeans and six-pack won’t!
NATURAL CARBOHYDRATES are those that haven’t been tampered with and remain as nature intended; if it grew that way, it’s a natural carb. When was the last time you saw a jam doughnut tree on your travels..?
- Examples of refined carbs: cakes, chocolate, doughnuts, pastries (anything made with white flour, in fact!), crisps/crisps, white rice, white pasta, white sugar etc
- Examples of natural carbs: anything that grows in the ground or can be picked off a tree or plant!
Complex Starchy and Complex Fibrous
COMPLEX STARCHY CARBS are your resistance training friends. They provide necessary fuel for training, replace the fuel you burned during training and release their energy slowly to keep you feeling fuller for longer after you’ve eaten them.
All the energy in starchy carbs can be absorbed by the body, making them very calorie heavy; you don’t get vast quantities of starchy carbs for your calorific money and it’s very easy to over-eat within this group, so be careful.
- Examples of complex starchy carbs: potatoes, cereals, oats, brown rice whole grain pasta, whole grain bread and beans
COMPLEX FIBROUS CARBS have numerous benefits and you should eat plenty of them!
The body doesn’t absorb all the available energy (calories) from fibrous carbs because a lot of it is contained in the plant’s fibre, which we can’t digest; green leafy vegetables, in particular, are very low in calories and you can eat a ton of them without reaching anything close to your calorie limit.
As a result you’ll be adding a lot of beneficial fibre to your diet, will feel fuller, for longer, on fewer calories which, in turn, reduces the probability of late-night snacking; awesome!
- Examples of complex fibrous carbs: broccoli (my BFF – Best Fibrous Friend!), cauliflower, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, watercress, green beans, spinach,
High Glycemic – Low Glycemic
The Glycemic Index assigns foods a number depending on how quickly the body converts their energy into glucose – the higher the number the faster it’s converted.
But just to really muddy the carbohydrate waters, some complex carbs have a high glycemic index number even though they’re in the, typically, slow release energy group.
Potatoes and carrots are two such examples of complex carbs (one starch, one fibrous) that have a high GI because the body converts them to sugar very quickly – years ago I was told/read (I can’t remember which) that carrots actually have a higher glycemic index rating than ice-cream (please, no abandoning carrots in favour of ice-cream!), apples, on the other hand, have a very low GI rating.
I must confess to never having paid more than scant attention to the individual GI numbers of the combined foods I eat; when combined with other foods, high GIs can be reduced and trying to work it all out is, quite frankly, enough to make your brain hurt!
A popular example I’ve come across often is ‘the rice cake with peanut butter’ (just reading the names of those two foods alone is almost enough to make my six-pack disappear!) Rice cakes have a very high GI rating, even though they’re low in fat, adding a bit of peanut butter (PB) to one brings it’s GI number down as the fat in the PB slows down the carbohydrate absorption.
Tom Venuto provides a very clear illustration of this in his book Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle: he explains how mashed potato has a GI rating that’s almost the same as pure glucose (I love mashed potato too, well I DID!) but if it’s combined with chicken breast and broccoli then the GI rating of that meal as a whole, is lower than the GI of the mash on its own.
The Bottom Line…
Carbs, other than refined ones, are NOT the enemy.
Ditch the refined carbs, NOW!
Go easy with foods containing simple carbs, like fruit; moderation is key.
Eat starchy and fibrous carbs on resistance training days.
Eat plenty of fibrous carbs EVERY day and
Eating starchy carbs in the evening, after training, WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT!
Still not convinced? You have SEEN my pictures, haven’t you..?
If you have a training or nutrition question you’d like us to answer, pop over to Six-Pack for Girls on Facebook and post it on our wall.