Depending on where you are in your training cycle, you probably have a pretty specific opinion on carbohydrates. Outside of bodybuilding and athletic training circles, people are rabidly avoiding carbohydrates. They’ve been taught to think that carbs contribute to weight gain, and by eliminating or drastically reducing carbohydrates, their bodies will respond by losing weight and dropping fat. There is some truth to that for many people, but it’s not quite so simple. Carbohydrates are actually an essential part of what your body needs to grow strong and stay fit.
That’s not to say you should feel free to go wild with the pasta, the bread, and the sugar. Not all carb calories are created equal. And, you need to parse through the rhetoric and the trends to determine which sorts of carbs work best for you, and when it’s a good idea to consume them. Everyone will have a different experience with diets in general. Low fat diets help some people lose weight, and high fat diets help a population of other people lose weight. It’s not about fat versus carbs or eliminating an entire food group. Good health is more about intentionally eating what will give you the physical results you want.
As a bodybuilder, you need to be especially mindful of the food you’re putting into your body. Every calorie and every nutrient has a role to play in building muscle, burning fat, and maintaining your strength and energy levels. That means a complex and sometimes confusing position on carbs.
New Trend Alert: Carb Cycling
Carb cycling has become a new buzzword for people who recognize that carbohydrates are necessary. On a carb cycle, you’ll increase the amount of carbohydrates you eat at specific periods, and then decrease them at other times. This can benefit your weight goals, but be careful with how it impacts your workouts. Many people who have tried carb cycling have noted negative side effects like a loss of energy, an unstable metabolic rate, increased hunger, and trouble staying focused. You don’t want to sabotage your workouts just because you’re trying to increase or reduce your carb consumption.
If you are going to try carb cycling, be smart. Don’t decrease your carbs or your calories on the days that you have big workouts planned. Remember to balance your high carb days with low fat days. Carb cycling may work for you. But, it’s not the only way to balance the amount of carbohydrates you’re eating.
Eat The Right Carbs
One way to make peace with carbs is to eat the right ones. The bad carbs are pretty obvious; they contain sugar and a lot of processing. Candy, cookies, ice cream, and things like unhealthy cereals and potato chips are sometimes delicious and filled with carbs, but they’re also filled with a lot of bad stuff that you don’t want. When you’re building your body and setting goals, you don’t have the luxury of filling your system with junk.
Stick to the carbs that go to work for you. Those include whole grain breads and crackers. Brown rice and potatoes, especially sweet potatoes, are also good choices. Complex carbs are found in some of the best vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Fill up on fruit if you need something sweet to eat. These carbs will never be bad for you. No one ever wrecked their diet and exercise plans with too much salad.
Eat Carbs for Energy
Your workouts are probably pretty intense, whether you’re bulking, cutting, maintaining, or doing something else. All of that heavy lifting or extra cardio requires energy and endurance. You won’t get that by cutting out carbs. Eat carbohydrates before your workout or your competition so you can stay strong throughout every moment that you’re in the gym. Then, eat some carbs after your workout so you can speed up the recovery process and feed your muscle tissues what they need to repair and bounce back.
Carbohydrates Create Muscle
When you’re completely focused on fat loss, it’s easy to forget that carbs are needed to grow muscles. Even when you’re cutting; you want to preserve the muscle gains that you’ve made. It’s a huge risk to cut your carb intake too much, because you don’t want to lose muscle as well as fat. Muscle tissues require glycogen to continue growing and to maintain their strength. Carbohydrates are used to make glycogen.
If the idea of sitting down to a pound of pasta seems unpleasant, consider eating smaller amounts of carbohydrates several times a day. This will divide up your calories, keep you satisfied and safe from cravings, and stabilize your blood sugar. Eating too much of anything at one time is bad for your body and also contributes to storing fat.
Don’t be discouraged by every new diet trend that tells you something bad about carbs. You know what your body needs to perform at its best, and as long as you keep feeding it the essential nutrients, you’re going to gain the muscle you want and avoid the fat you don’t want. Keep yourself on track, and you’ll be the powerhouse you’re trying to become.