Carbohydrates are the first building blocks of food, and understanding how they work will help you choose your sources of nutrients effectively to promote weight loss and build lean muscle.
Carbs, or carbohydrates, are molecules that have carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.
In nutrition, the word “carbs” refers to one of the three macronutrients. The other two are protein and fat.
Carbohydrates are a type of macronutrient found in many foods and beverages. Most carbs occur naturally in plant-based foods, such as grains. Food manufacturers also add carbs to processed foods in the form of starch or added sugar.
Common sources of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:
- Beans, peas and lentils
After eating carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into sugars, which cause your blood glucose level to increase. As this happens, the pancreas releases insulin, which is an anabolic hormone responsible for transporting nutrients into the muscle cells and helping muscles recover.
The second function of insulin is to eliminate surplus glucose from the blood and shuttle it into liver glycogen or muscle glycogen stores. However, if both the liver and muscle glycogen stores have been maximized, the surplus blood glucose will then be stored as fat.
When you exercise, muscle glycogen stores are utilized, and the corresponding insulin released when eating high-carbohydrate foods will cause the surplus blood glucose, along with the rest of the nutrients, to be shuttled into the muscle cells.
This boosts muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery, which in turn builds lean muscle.
As you know, that is your ultimate goal. You are taking up these exercises because you wish to have lean muscles at the end of it all. Once you have your goals set, it becomes increasingly easy for you to follow and pursue them.
Thus, it is important to do as many “right” things as possible in order to attain your goal faster. So be wise in choosing what you put inside your body in terms of carbs. This is further explained in detail under the next heading.
The level of increase in your blood sugar from the consumption of carbohydrates greatly depends on the amount that you consume, as well as how quickly the carbohydrates are digested. The amount of fiber in the carbohydrates, as well as fat and protein content, is also a major factor.
In order to lose weight and boost muscle recovery from carbohydrate consumption, it is best to choose food sources that are unrefined and rich in fiber.
This will ensure that the carbohydrate will be digested more slowly, leading to steadier blood sugar increase and insulin response. Refined starches and sugars from which fiber is removed become easily digested and trigger an immediate blood sugar spike, followed by a crash once the insulin plays its role.
Individuals who consume white sugar, bread, pasta, and all other refined and processed carbohydrates tend to crave even more of these foods because of the “spike and crash” cycle, ultimately leading to weight gain.
So that is where the whole issue lies. Many people blame their “staple” foods as being habitual.
In addition to being better for ensuring a balanced increase in blood sugar and stable insulin response, refined carbohydrates provide your body with more vitamins and minerals than unrefined carbohydrates because the refining process tends to remove those essential items.
Refined carbohydrates include whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat, or bran; legumes, such as soybeans, peas, lentils, and peanuts; fruits, such as apples, strawberries, oranges, or grapes; and uncooked vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, and spinach.
The glycemic index of foods or GI refers to the categorization of foods, particularly sources of carbohydrates, on a three-point scale: low, medium, and high.
Foods that cause an immediate rise in blood sugar are categorized as having a higher GI, whereas foods that increase the blood sugar at a gradual pace have a lower GI.
There are several diets out there that consider the GI as a way of determining the primary food nutrition groups to help people lose weight and keep it off for a long time.
So it becomes extremely important for you to keep in mind what you eat when you begin with the lean muscle- building routine.
The following common foods fall under the low GI category: the majority of fruits and vegetables, the majority of dairy products, sweet potatoes, whole and unrefined grains, beans, and barley.
The following common foods fall under the high GI category: white bread, white rice, white pasta, peeled potatoes, corn flakes, ice cream, crispy rice cereals, cooked carrots, and sugars (excluding fructose).
The GI can be very helpful when you are creating your meal plan. For instance, it is best to eat foods under the high GI category immediately after an intense workout so that you boost and maximize the insulin response and regain muscle glycogen stores.
Eating foods in the low GI category will help you lose weight, so concentrate on eating these while limiting your intake of high GI foods throughout the day.
The chart below provides a sample of some commonly eaten foods:
|Low GI (less than 55)
|Apple, Broccoli, Cherries, Grapefruit, Orange, Pear, Tomatoes
|Medium GI (56 to 69)
|Banana, Brown Rice, Oatmeal, Popcorn, Sweet Potato, White Rice, Whole Wheat Bread
|High GI (70 and up)
|Bagels, Doughnuts, Rice Cakes, Pretzels, Watermelon, White Bread, White Potatoes
Now I’m sure your existing diet consists of all the foods mentioned in the last category.
Don’t worry — it won’t remain that way for long, and by the time you are through with this post, you would have changed your food habits and will be on your way to attaining a lean and ripped body.
For individuals who are starting an active lifestyle and trying to lose weight, your carbohydrate intake should fall within 100 to 150 grams each day.
The sources of carbohydrates should primarily be vegetables and fruits. You can also eat small amounts of healthy starches, such as sweet potatoes and potatoes (with the skin), as well as whole grains, such as brown rice and oats.
Many people wonder if fruits are healthy, as they are sweet and have the capacity to add back fat to the body. In reality, fruits contain fructose, which is a more complex chemical than sucrose that is present in sugar. So if your body is exposed to both, it will take more effort for it to digest the former than the latter.
In the process, it ends up burning more fat from the body. So don’t think eating fruit is bad for you, unless you are eating extremely sweet fruits all throughout the day. However, you might have to exercise precaution if you have high levels of sugar in your body.
If you want to increase and speed up weight loss, you will need to limit your carbohydrate intake to the 50- to 100-gram range each day.
This is also a healthy range for people who have Celiac disease or any other carbohydrate-sensitive issue. Concentrate on eating primarily vegetables and limiting fruit to one to three pieces per day, and avoid starchy carbs as much as possible.
To really rev up your metabolic rate, you should eat 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you eat less than 50 grams each day, the body will undergo a state of ketosis, which means that it will start to utilize the fat stores from your body as an energy source.
You should only eat low GI carbohydrate vegetables, such as leafy greens, and trace carbohydrates from raw nuts, seeds, avocados, and berries.
A word of caution: make sure to consult your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet in order to avoid any health problems in the future.