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With all the hype floating around the Internet and the banter flooding TV talk shows about the wonders of high-protein diets, you might think carbs are useless except for producing fat. You might also think that if you consume carbohydrates, they will undermine your attempts at building a better physique.
The fascination with high-protein diets is nothing new; the recent onslaught of carb bashing that has gone along with it, though, is both ignorant and counterproductive to building a healthy diet that is ideally suited to complement hardcore training.
Let’s ditch the hype in favor of a concrete analysis of applying carbs to building muscle mass. Here are seven tips for incorporating these unfairly maligned nutritional nuggets into your muscle-building program.
#1 HIGH CARBS + HIGH PROTEIN = MORE MUSCLE
Consume plenty of carbs and protein when you are trying to build muscle mass. A carb deficiency during mass-building mode leads to protein degradation — dietary protein is utilized for energy instead of muscle building. Mass gainers need at least 2.5 grams (g) of carbs for every pound of bodyweight to enable protein to be truly anabolic. When in mass-building mode, make sure you are taking in 1 to 1.5 g of protein per pound of bodyweight.
#2 CARBS + SODIUM AFTER TRAINING = GROWTH
Put a new spin on the old standby of packing in carbs after training: Restore glycogen by consuming a carb/sodium cocktail within 90 minutes after your workout. Sodium traps more water inside the muscles, which maximizes postworkout recovery and growth. Make sure to add 500 milligrams of sodium — one-quarter teaspoon of salt — to your posttraining meal.
#3 OPENING THE SIX-HOUR CARB WINDOW
Conventional wisdom dictates that it is best to consume a big carb meal — along with protein — within 90 minutes of completing a training session. Carbs consumed during this “90-minute window” trigger an increase in the release of insulin, which stops the breakdown of muscle tissue while stimulating the uptake of carbs by the muscles. Many bodybuilders do not know that muscles actually crave carbs for six hours after training. Here’s how to give your body the carbs it needs: Eat a high-carb meal (two bagels with jam or honey) within 90 minutes after training and a second high-carb meal (two heaping cups of white rice or pasta) within the next four hours. Refined carbs such as juice, bagels, white rice and fat-free cookies or muffins work especially well in this insulin-triggering equation.
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#4 DON’T SNUB THE SPUDS
Many dieting bodybuilders avoid eating potatoes for fear these starchy spuds convert quickly into sugar, the net result of this rapid conversion being out-of-control hunger. That, in turn, leads to the kind of binging that works against a successful diet. However, all potatoes are not created equal! Bodybuilders should avoid russet potatoes — they do convert quickly into sugar — and opt instead for red potatoes, which break down more slowly and leave the dieter feeling fully satisfied.
#5 MIX AND MATCH YOUR CARBS
The goal in consuming carbs is to raise insulin levels to promote muscle growth. The best way to elevate insulin via carb consumption is to mix fast-acting carbs, such as raisins, juice and Cream of Wheat (which provide an immediate insulin burst), with slow-to-burn carbs, such as oats, yams and Cream of Rye (which provide a prolonged insulin response), during the six-hour window after training (see #3).
#6 CARB ME UP AND CARB ME DOWN
If you want to look bigger and fuller, whether for a contest or just for personal training objectives, you will need to deplete carbs for three days and load them for two. The rule of thumb is that for every gram of carbs you deplete from your diet, add 1.5 g of carbs in loading.
For example, if you are a 200-pound bodybuilder who typically eats 500 g of carbs per day (see #1) and depletes to 100 g daily (figured by dividing bodyweight by about 2 g per pound or 200/2 = 100), you are eliminating 400 g of carbs per day from your diet. Multiply that number by 1.5 to get the additional amount of carbs you’ll need (in this example, 400 x 1.5 = 600).
To calculate your total daily carb requirements in the loading phase, take the sum of your additional carb requirements and your typical carb consumption (600 g + 500 g). The total (1,100 g in our example) is the number of carbs required to supersaturate your body with glycogen for a tight full look.
#7 GOOD FATS YIELD BETTER CARBS
A mass-building diet should derive 20% of total calories from fat sources, such as flaxseed oil and fish oils. These unsaturated fats help your body store carbs and increase glycogen reserves; the extra calories from the fats (instead of from carbs) can be burned as energy. Remember that fully loaded glycogen stores equate to better workouts, enhanced recovery and optimal muscle growth.