The best carbohydrates for bodybuilders are ones which provide stable energy, assist with muscle building, and promote overall health. Truthfully, the best complex carbs for bodybuilding are generally the best carbs for nearly everyone.
In its most basic state, carbohydrates are organic compounds which are found in tissues and food that can be broken down to be one of the three major sources of energy for animals and humans. Carbohydrates can be classified as simple or complex, and they are mainly sugars and starches.
Similar to most other athletes, bodybuilders need carbs (carbohydrates) to help recover from training and to provide energy for future training sessions or competitions.
While simple carbohydrates consist of one or two sugars, (and include food items such as fructose and white flour), complex carbohydrates consist of three or more sugars, and they usually have a rich fiber content.
Complex carbohydrates are a dietary starch made of sugar molecules that are strung together like a necklace, or branched like a coil. Complex carbohydrates ensure that your body has what it needs to operate at peak performance, and they are usually found in whole plant food. Because of this, they often have a high number of minerals and vitamins.
Many people wonder whether simple or complex carbs are better for bodybuilders, but the answer is that you need both!
Keep reading below to find out more about which carbs are the best for bodybuilders and how you can add them to your diet!
Simple Carbs vs Complex Carbs for Bodybuilders
Complex carbohydrates are foods that contain an abundant number of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as:
- Brown Rice
Simple carbohydrates (simple carbs), on the other hand, have softer texture such as baked goods, white bread, and white rice. Other types of simple sugar include candy, sweeteners (such as table sugar), and honey.
Simple carbohydrates are easily digested, and since they are absorbed fast, they lead to a spike in blood sugar and a quick boost in energy. Simple carbs are also often referred to as High Glycemic Index carbohydrates because they cause a rapid increase in blood glucose concentration.
Although fruits, dairy, and vegetables are technically made of simple carbohydrates, they contain protein, fiber, and other nutrients which cause them to act like complex carbohydrates in the body.
A complex carbohydrate has many advantages for fat loss and muscle gain, primarily since it is generally full of more essential nutrients overall. This will enable you to have a healthier and more productive body, leading to the positive changes you are looking to make!
The one role in which simple carbs are more effective than complex carbs for bodybuilding is directly after a workout. Simple carbs are better directly post-workout because they promote a quicker insulin response and stimulate muscle recovery faster.
As stated in a study published in The Physician and Sportsmedicine,
“To hasten recovery after intense training, athletes should consume at least 50 g of high- or moderate-glycemic carbohydrates as soon after exercise as is practical. They should eat at least an additional 50 g every 2 hours until they eat a large meal. To obtain the recommended 70% of calories from carbohydrate, athletes may find it helpful to determine how many 50-g carbohydrate food portions they need to eat daily.”
However, I don’t regularly eat simple carbs at any other time of day, outside of certain High Glycemic Index (GI) fruits, honey, or maple syrup.
There are several reasons why it is much better to consume more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates throughout the bulk of your day, including:
The primary reasons bodybuilders should eat complex carbs instead of simple carbs is that complex carbohydrates take a much longer time to digest than simple carbs, and are crucial to fulfilling hunger and providing you with a long-lasting source of energy.
Additionally, complex carbohydrates replenish muscle glycogen stores and therefore enables athletes to perform much better.
According to a study on the effect of two distinct breakfasts with different carbohydrate compositions on hunger and satiety and mood in healthy men that was published in the International Journal of Obesity,
“Consumption of a CCHO (Complex Carbohydrate) breakfast is favorable in comparison to a SCHO (Simple Carbohydrate) breakfast, because of the lower perception of ‘fatigue’ and the higher degree of satiety after consumption.
Since you will feel full faster and for a more extended period, when you eat complex carbohydrates, this results in less cravings, and the need to eat unhealthy snacks that can occur between planned meals will significantly diminish.
For bodybuilders on a “cutting” cycle or those looking to maintain a low body fat, this is a huge benefit.
Along with that, because of the rich fiber content of complex carbohydrates, when they are consumed, they allow for your digestive tract to work much more smoothly overall. This often leads to less bloating and gas.
Constipation can also be improved in this manner, as more toxins are removed from your body
According to a study published in Atherosclerosis: Diet and Drugs,
“Multiple lines of evidence suggest that for cardiovascular disease prevention a high sugar intake should be avoided. There is growing evidence of the high impact of dietary fiber and foods with a low GI on single risk factors (e.g., lipid pattern, diabetes, inflammation, endothelial function, etc.) as well as also the development of the endpoints of atherosclerosis especially CHD.”
If you have trouble with digestion or you simply want to feel lighter and freer each day, complex carbs are the way to go!
Complex Carbohydrates also provide antioxidants, and other vital nutrients that are essential for removing free radicals, and reducing inflammation.
Lastly, by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, complex carbohydrates enable you to have a more restful sleep
Keep reading below to see the best carbs for bodybuilding!
The 12 Best Complex Carbs for Bodybuilding
Now that you understand why bodybuilders and people following a bodybuilding routine should intake more complex carbs than simple carbs, you can check out the best complex carbohydrates for bodybuilding!
One of the best sources of complex carbohydrates is oats because they are a highly nutritious gluten-free cereal that contains a healthy type of fiber known as beta-glucan. Beta glucan is known to lower blood sugar and cholesterol in the body.
Oats are unique because they have a blend of different forms of starch, and this makes them great for replenishing energy stores and managing blood sugar.
Oats can be effective for starting your day or filling in any time between meals.
Oats have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels and are very effective at keeping you full without needing to eat too many calories overall. I love to start my days off every morning with a bowl of oatmeal also containing honey, maple syrup, and coconut oil!
2.) Millet, Buckwheat, and Amaranth
These are all heirloom grains that have been cultivated for more than 7,000 years by indigenous populations. All three of these are highly nutritious and gluten-free.
They contain more minerals and vitamins than other grains, and because of their high fiber and antioxidant content, they are beneficial for blood sugar control. This makes them a perfect “comfort” food to eat for post workout glycogen replenishment.
Also, these grains are all excellent examples of vegan protein sources!
My wife is a huge fan of buckwheat, and it is far more commonly eaten in Eastern countries than in the West. I am more of a fan of millet, but any of these three will serve you wonderfully!
If you would like to buy buckwheat but do not see it at your store, the best brand of buckwheat can be purchased even cheaper online than in stores anyways! You can easily purchase a stock of this to have for months on end.
3.) Sweet Potatoes
The indigenous people of Okinawa, Japan are one of the longest-living populations on the planet, and researchers believe that this is partly due to their unique diet.
About 70 percent of the calories these people consume are from sweet potatoes and yams! These “tubers” that have a bright orange color are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber; making them one of the healthiest foods on the planet.
The main component in sweet potatoes are complex carbohydrates known as starches, and they make up 53% of the carbohydrate content. A medium sized sweet potato that is boiled without its skin contains 27 grams of carbohydrates.
Simple sugars like sucrose, fructose, and maltose, make up another 32% of the carb content.
Glycemic index refers to the measure of how fast blood sugar values rise after eating a food or meal, and sweet potatoes have a medium to high glycemic index which varies from 44-96.
Overall, sweet potatoes are probably my favorite complex carbohydrate.
Sweet potatoes provides us with large amounts of beta-carotene, which is transformed into vitamin A in the body. To get the necessary amount of daily Vitamin-A from sweet potatoes, 100 grams of sweet potatoes is recommended. Vitamin-A deficiency is something which greatly effects developing countries and their food supply with this deficiency potentially leading to temporary or permanent damage of the eyes, and possibly even blindness!
Sweet potatoes also contain potassium which has the potential to decrease the risk of heart disease. Potassium is also incredibly important for muscle recovery as an athlete, being a key nutrient along with sodium for maintaining overall body hydration and performance!
Additionally, sweet potatoes are high in Vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 plays an active role in the conversion of food into energy.
Another awesome nutrient found in sweet potatoes is manganese. Manganese is a trace mineral that is vital for growth, development and metabolism in the body. Manganese is not found in high quantities in many foods but sweet potatoes are loaded with this amazing nutrient!
Some of the unique plant compounds that can be found in sweet potatoes include:
- Chlorogenic Acid- It is the most abundant polyphenol antioxidant that can be found in sweet potatoes.
- Beta-Carotene- Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is transformed into vitamin A in the body. By adding fat to your meal, it can increase its absorption in the body.
- Coumarins- You can also find small amounts of umbelliferon, esculetin, and scopoletin, which may help to prevent blood clotting. Also, it has the potential to help inhibiting the replication of the HIV virus based on animal and cell studies.
- Anthocyanins- The purple sweet potatoes are very rich in anthocyanins, and possesses strong antioxidant properties.
One of the main reasons sweet potatoes are great for bodybuilding is since along with the excellent complex carbs, they also contain a fair amount of protein. A medium sized sweet potato contains only about 2 grams of protein.
Although it is low when compared to other sources of protein, sweet potatoes contain unique proteins called sporamins, which accounts for 80% of its total proteins. Sporamins are produced in sweet potatoes whenever they are subjected to physical damage in order to facilitate healing, and recent studies tend to suggest that these proteins may contain antioxidant properties.
Although it may have an overall low protein content, this still serves as a great source of protein due to the unique effectiveness of the type of protein contained within.
Lastly, sweet potatoes are an amazing source of fiber. A medium sized sweet potato contains about 3.8 grams of fiber.
The fiber in potatoes are both soluble (about 15-23% in the form of pectin) and also insoluble (about 77-85% in the form of lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose).
Soluble fibers like pectin have been shown to help to reduce overall food intake, and reduce blood sugar spikes by slowing down the digestion of starches and sugars in the body.
Insoluble fibers provide several health benefits such as reduced risk of diabetes, and improved gut health. The combination of these two types of fibers in one food make it an extremely healthy food for your body in many ways!
Although it is considered technically as a seed, quinoa is composed of an exceptional nutritional balance between protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Quinoa is exceptionally beneficial for cell membrane health, and brain function. Quinoa is great for a post-workout meal or with dinner, and you can enhance your glucose uptake by eating quinoa with vegetables or spices.
Quinoa isn’t especially “tasty” so mixing it with other vegetables or into a soup is an excellent way to enjoy the health benefits!
The variations of squash that can lighten up your meal are endless. Some of these variations include yellow summer squash, spaghetti squash, acorn, butternut, and zucchini. They are all packed with fiber and nutrients and are relatively low in overall carbohydrate content.
You can bake them, sauté with greens, or they can be used as a substitute for popular refined carbs such as regular pasta noodles.
You have probably heard that bananas contains a large amount of sugar, that doesn’t mean they aren’t one of the best complex carbs for bodybuilding.
Bananas are high in antioxidants which gives us protection from the free radicals that we constantly encounter daily.
While in an unripe state, the banana consists mostly of resistant starch, and starch. Each banana contains about 105 calories, and exclusively consists of carbohydrates and water. When it ripens, however, the starch will turn into sugar (sucrose, glucose, and fructose). This simple factor makes bananas themselves excellent for athletes while in competition, as they are full of fast-absorbing nutrients you need to be successful over a sustained period!
One medium banana contains 422 mg of potassium, and 32 mg of magnesium; making it an excellent source of these two vital minerals.
The leading causes of death and disability worldwide are heart disease and stroke.
Luckily, bananas can protect you from both of them because of their high potassium levels that dilate blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.
Moreover, a study shows that high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.
Furthermore, potassium in bananas helps to maintain proper fluid balance, which keeps swelling from occurring.
Bananas are a good source of fiber, because a medium sized banana contains about 3 grams of fiber. Bananas contain two main types of fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Resistant starch, which is found in unripe bananas
- Pectin, which decreases as the banana ripens.
The resistant starch escapes digestion and ends up in our large intestine, where it serves as food for beneficial stomach bacteria. Cell studies have proposed that pectin may be able to help protect against colon cancer.
Together, these two types of fiber are an incredible team for your digestion and overall health!
They are also a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and magnesium. The fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin B6, and potassium content in bananas all support overall heart health.
Furthermore, bananas contain plenty of fructooligosaccharides, which feeds digestive-friendly probiotics and boost the body’s ability to absorb calcium and other nutrients.
They also contain prebiotics, on which the beneficial bacteria in your gut thrives; making them great anti-stress food.
For these reasons, and others, bananas are one of the best carbs for bodybuilding!
7.) Lentils and Legumes
Since they are very high in fiber and provide a balanced macronutrient profile to help fight hunger, beans and lentils are some of the healthiest sources of complex carbohydrates. Lentils contain the highest phytonutrient levels of all legumes, which makes them protective against many diseases associated with stress including:
- Heart disease
- High Blood Pressure
8.) Green Vegetables
One of the unique benefits of leafy vegetables is that you can eat them in enormous quantities since they are very low in calories and filled with fiber and nutrition. Some of the best leafy green vegetables to try to add to your diet include kale, rainbow, and Swiss chard; which contain antioxidants that are linked to the prevention of cancer, and blood sugar management.
Others are collards and arugula, which is packed with nitrates that help to improve blood flow and may enhance exercise capacity.
Pumpkin is one of the healthiest types of complex carbohydrates for bodybuilding in the world, even though few people understand any of its incredible benefits! The benefits of pumpkin include making weight loss easier, improving your eye sight and eye health, reducing your risk of cancer, and much more!
Pumpkin can be eaten in its natural form, or it can be made into a soup amongst other options.
Eating pumpkin pie might not be the healthiest way to get your daily intake of pumpkin in, but the benefits of pumpkin are so strong that even a dessert pie can be beneficial for you health!
Just a single cup of pumpkin soup contains more than 200 percent of the recommended intake of Vitamin A! Vitamin A is effective in aiding vision, especially while in places with dim lights.
Along with that, pumpkin soup is rich in carotenoid, which is the compound that gives the gourd their orange color.
There is also beta-carotene, which is usually converted by the body into Vitamin A.
Since pumpkin is rich in fiber, but has very little calories, it is great for weight loss. Fiber is very helpful when it comes to aiding proper digestion, where the different nutrients are broken down easily.
This enables the body to work more efficiently, and as a result burn fat faster.
The fact that pumpkin has low volumes of calories also plays a significant role, because it helps to ensure that people who use the soup do not get unwanted fat in their body from excess calories.
If you are trying to lose weight but don’t want to walk around hungry all day, try eating a couple bowls of pumpkin soup! You can also make mashed pumpkin (like mashed potatoes), but just make sure not to add too much butter or milk.
Regardless, the fiber is one of the best benefits of pumpkin and can absolutely help you lose weight quickly!
Furthermore, pumpkin oil contains a plant based substance known as phytosterol. According to various studies, this substance reduces LDL (which is also known as bad cholesterol). Reducing LDL plays a major role in enhancing the performance and health of the heart. When bad cholesterol accumulates in the body, it moves in to the heart and can hinder its overall performance.
Someone regularly eating pumpkin does not experience this problem, since they are naturally working to lower their levels of cholesterol daily.
Along with reducing general cholesterol, losing weight is one of the easiest ways to improve the condition of your heart. If you have issues with obesity, or simply have a few too many extra pounds, this can be detrimental to your heart.
Drop the pounds by adding more pumpkin in your diet, and your heart will be much healthier!
Another incredible component of pumpkin is Beta-carotene, which is one of the most effective antioxidants in the world, and pumpkin contains very high amounts of this nutrient!
Studies have shown that this substance can help in reducing risks of different types of cancer.
These studies have shown that this substance is more effective than most of the supplements that are used with an objective of reducing chances of being affected by cancer, proving that natural foods are more effective than modern medicine in many ways.
Also, it has been proven by professionals that the carotenoids found in pumpkin help with keeping the skin healthy.
These components ensure that the skin is provided with the necessary nutrients, and as a result remains healthy for longer than it naturally would.
This plays a key role in reducing some major skin related issues, such as developing wrinkles.
Lastly, pumpkin is rich in Vitamin C, which is one of the main vitamins that is known to boost the immune system.
One cup of pumpkin soup contains about twenty percent of the amount that is required daily! By eating just a few cups of pumpkin soup on a regular basis, your immune system will be significantly boosted.
Using supplements such as Emergen-C are great when necessary, but taking a more holistic approach to your immune system will have much better long-term effects.
10.) Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are one of the best carbs for bodybuilding for a variety of reasons. Along with providing healthy complex carbohydrates, they provide loads of additional nutrients as well.
Sunflower seeds provide your body with a large amount of Vitamin-E, a necessary and often overlooked vitamin in your daily diet. The National Sunflower Association explained that an ounce of sunflower seeds provides 76 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin E.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant which helps protect cells against cell damage from free radicals amongst other benefits.
Vitamin E can also work with others to maintain healthy eyes, and protect against macular degeneration. Along with this, the National Sunflower Association says that an ounce of sunflower seeds contains approximately 24 percent of the recommended daily amount of selenium for men, and 31 percent for women.
These micronutrients are often overshadowed by macronutrient goals by many bodybuilders or people training solely for their physique, but are vital to building a healthy and useful body. Especially for athletes and bodybuilders, micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients.
Furthermore, sunflower seeds contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, also known as the “good” fats since they help raise HDL (good cholesterol) while reducing LDL (unhealthy cholesterol levels).
The National Sunflower Association says that about 90 percent of the fat in sunflower seeds is unsaturated (healthy) fats.
The seeds also contain protein and is effective in building and maintaining muscle tissue in the body. I have written about the benefits of dietary fats many times before, and will continue to assert that a diet high in healthy fats is the absolute healthiest for you.
Healthy fats are crucial for athletes since they are often processed at the speed of carbohydrates but have the longevity of protein in terms of energy.
Furthermore, this type of fat actually has direct impact on your abdominal region, helping to enable the fat which is stored in this region to be burned more efficiently!
Sunflower oil is also an excellent oil for cooking, due to the healthy fats in sunflower seeds.
Along with that, folate is a form of Vitamin- B found naturally in foods, with the synthetic form of this vitamin being called folic acid. Folate is necessary for the body to produce new red blood cells, and for metabolism and maintenance of normal levels of homocysteine-an amino acid.
There are not too many foods which are abundantly rich in folate, and sunflower seeds are definitely one of them!
Along with these already mentioned benefits, sunflower seeds also contain remarkable amounts of several other vitamins and minerals. A ¼ cup serving of sunflower seeds contains:
- 16 grams of fat
- 190 calories
- 34% of selenium
- 33% of phosphorus
- 82% of vitamin E
- 70% DV of copper
- 34% of Manganese
- 20% of Folate
These minerals help with the transportation of oxygen to the red blood cells, and also to several other parts of the body. They maintain the immune system, stabilize blood glucose and blood cholesterol, and also prevent constipation.
You can add sunflower seeds to your homemade trail mix for an excellent and energizing snack on the go!
Along with being a great source of complex carbohydrates, peanuts have high amount of monounsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fats are very healthy for the heart and other parts of your body. Along with this, peanuts contain unique vitamins and minerals such as:
- Vitamins B1, B3 and E
Furthermore, according to the Peanut Institute,
“arginine, an amino acid that is high in peanuts, is a precursor to nitric oxide, which helps expand blood vessels and can decrease blood pressure.”
Evidence from several studies indicate that certain nutrients found in peanuts such as folic acid, phytosterols, and resveratrol may actually have anti-cancer effects, as peanut have actually been considered for a long time as a preventive food for colon cancer.
Peanuts also have high amounts of fiber which help to stabilize your digestive system when ate in moderation and consistently.
Other health benefits of peanuts include:
- Helps protect against Alzheimer’s and also age related cognitive decline
- Helps to prevent gallstones
- Reduces your chance of weight gain
- Due to the presence of antioxidants, it enhances a healthy heart
Almonds are recognized as one of the most nutritious nuts along with the fact that they have a delicious taste. Almonds are beneficial to your health because they help prevent many diseases. Almonds serve as a good source of minerals and vitamins such as:
- Vitamins B and E
- Healthy fats
Studies have shown that people who eat almonds frequently (about five times a week), are fifty percent more likely to reduce the risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases. Almonds strengthen and protect the artery walls against any damage that may occur in them.
Because of its high phosphorus content, almonds are a powerful food to protect and strengthen bones and teeth. It is very important that we must take good care of the health of our bones and teeth, and by eating almonds a few times in a week we can strengthen our bones.
Along with this, chewing almonds itself is extremely helpful in strengthening your teeth. Between the nutrients and the texture, this is a food which is excellent for your mouth overall!
It has been shown for centuries that frequent consumption of almonds drives the brain to have a higher activity level overall, which reduces the risk of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also supplies powerful nutrients to our nervous system, which helps us in achieving a high intellectual level and an increase in longevity.
The Best Carb Supplement for Bodybuilding
Although I always recommend you choose whole foods instead of supplements, sometimes you don’t have time for a meal, and a carb supplement might be a better option. Fortunately the are carb supplements which are great for bodybuilding.
However, my main issue is that most carb supplements for bodybuilding use maltodextrin or dextrose. In my opinion, these are not good carbs. If you want good carbs for bodybuilding in supplement form, your best option is Swolverine Clean Carbs. Swolverine Clean Carbs is a complex carbohydrate supplement which contains carbs from sweet potatoes, yams, and oats- 3 of the best complex carbohydrates for bodybuilding!
Along with that, it is only flavored with Natural Flavors and stevia.
If you want a carb supplement that will help your body refuel and improve your overall health, my suggestion is Swolverine Clean Carbs.
Concluding Thoughts – The Best Sources of Carbs for Bodybuilding
Complex carbohydrates are essential for your body and are critical for anyone looking to build a healthy and aesthetic body.
All the carbohydrates listed above will make excellent additions to your diet, and can be extremely helpful in creating a well-rounded diet overall!