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.
Keep reading below to learn some additional health benefits of complex carbs as well as the eight best carbs for bodybuilding!
Health Benefits of Complex Carbohydrates for Bodybuilding
There are several reasons why it is much better to consume more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates throughout the bulk of your day, including:
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!
Energizes the Body for a Longer Period
Although eating simple carbohydrates provides a quick way to fulfill a craving and fill your stomach, they are quick to digest and cause hunger to return fast.
Complex carbohydrates take a much longer time to digest and are crucial to fulfilling hunger and providing you with a long-lasting source of energy.
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.
Enhances a Healthy Heart
A diet that is rich in vegetables has been proven to reduce LDL cholesterol, and guard against heart attack and angina by lowering blood pressure.
Complex carbohydrates can help you maintain a healthy heart, while whole grains and legumes help to guard the heart by reducing cardiovascular and coronary heart disease risk.
When you eat complex carbohydrates, you will feel full faster; and for a more extended period. This results in less cravings, and the need to eat unhealthy snacks that can occur between planned meals will significantly diminish.
Rather than reaching for a simple carbohydrate, snacking on complex carbohydrates or incorporating them into your meals is a great way to stay on track with your weight loss program, or weight maintenance goals.
Complex Carbohydrates also provide antioxidants, and other vital nutrients that are essential for removing free radicals, and reducing inflammation.
Enhances Athletic Performance
Complex carbohydrates improve the replenishment of muscle glycogen stores and therefore enables athletes to perform much better.
They Enhance Restful Sleep
By lowering the stress hormone cortisol, complex carbohydrates enable you to have a more restful sleep
Enhances Your Mood
Complex carbs provide the building blocks that are necessary for the body to synthesize the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin, and this improves your mood and well-being.
Additional Reading: Eating Tips that Will Improve Your Health
The 8 Best Complex Carbs for Bodybuilding
Now that you understand why bodybuilders should intake more complex carbs than simple carbs, you can check out the eight types of complex carbohydrates which I believe are the best!
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 start my days off every morning with a bowl of oatmeal also containing honey, maple syrup, and coconut oil!
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.
If you would like to try buckwheat, my favorite brand is:
Sweet Potatoes and Other Tubers
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.
Both can be enjoyed with a small amount of butter, and a dash of cinnamon, to make a delicious treat!
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.
Whole Fruits and Bananas
Of course, fruits are very rich in a variety of phytonutrients that have many health-enhancing properties. A good example is blueberries, which contains anthocyanin that not only reduces inflammation but also protects against everything from cancer to diabetes. Although blueberries are acidic (and other fruits as well), they are still incredibly healthy for your body.
Since they are low in calories, they are a great choice of food if you are trying to lose fat. However, if your goal is exercise recovery, then watermelon, bananas, or pineapples may be a better choice.
Bananas can raise the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin, and significantly improve blood antioxidant levels.
They also contain prebiotics, on which the beneficial bacteria in your gut thrives; making them great anti-stress food.
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
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.
Concluding Thoughts – The Best Complex 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!