Carbohydrates have always been given a bad reputation. Ever since the rise of diet programs, misconceptions from various sources about how our bodies process particular nutrients has pointed the blame at carbohydrates for weight gain.
Although the misconceptions are quite broad, we are not going to focus on the negatives, rather, we will discuss how the body works to use carbohydrates as fuel, and why it is essential in your diet - especially as an athlete.
Carbs Are Essential
The idea that you should avoid carbohydrates because they cause weight gain or they are not needed for muscle growth is an idea that has confused exercise professionals for generations.
Carbohydrates are completely essential in your diet as they provide the bulk of your calories and, most importantly, provide fiber and glycogen.
The Role of Fiber in Weight Loss and Strength Development
Dietary fiber plays one of the largest roles in your weight loss goals. Research shows that the amount of fiber you obtain through your diet is directly correlated to the amount of weight you lose.
In addition to weight loss, fiber also plays a large role in strength. A 2013 meta-analysis clearly documents the wide variety of health benefits above the usual body weight control of fiber - one of which included the ability to assist in lipid oxidation.
Although this process is not a direct element involved in the events of muscle development, increased lipid oxidation can lead to better utilization of fat and, in turn, greater strength output.
Carb Provide Glycogen
The second and some would say the most important element of carbohydrates prevalence in your diet is the availability of glycogen.
Glycogen, as you may know, is the stored fuel for muscle contractions. It is stored both in the liver and muscle.
Without a carbohydrate-rich diet, your body will lack glycogen and will need to use a different fuel source such as ketones or proteins (through gluconeogenesis) although this is not nearly as effective as glycogen itself.
More glycogen in the muscle means greater strength output, which has been shown in countless clinical settings.
What Carbs Should You Eat?
This is where the misconceptions come back to fruition. Many people view carbohydrates just as foods such as bread, rice and pasta - and although they are correct, the best forms of carbohydrates (in most cases) are the ones that are unprocessed.
By this, we mean fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
The bread and butter of carb intake for early humans. The important concept to remember is that fruit is primarily responsible for restoring liver glycogen - so this may not be as important as vegetables and grain for strength development.
If possible, this is where you should eat the bulk of your calories. Vegetables are high in carbohydrates, fiber, micronutrients and some (broccoli, spinach) even contain more protein (per calorie) than animal sources.
The king of carbohydrates for muscle development will always come in the form of rich, dark, unprocessed grains. Rye, buckwheat and sprouted grains should be your go-to as they are plentiful in fiber, protein and some offer a wide variety of amino acids for muscle development.
See, carbs aren't so bad once you understand what they are and how they work.
Consume the right carbs and enjoy the benefits of increased energy and faster recovery from training sessions.