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Getting bigger can’t be boiled down to just one nutritional maxim, such as “eat tons of protein.” Rather, successful muscle-building nutrition is the sum of eating properly, covering everything from total calories to protein, carbs and essential fats. That being said, an overlooked aspect of bodybuilding nutrition is the effect that foods have on blood sugar levels.
Blood sugar, or blood glucose, is the term used to describe the amount of sugar in blood. Your body breaks down carbohydrates you eat into sugar. It either floats in your blood until your muscles absorb it to make muscle glycogen (an important component of muscle recovery and muscle growth) or it is stored as fat, adding to your bodyfat.
This article discusses the nutritional keys to stabilizing blood sugar levels. Low blood sugar levels can lead to subpar growth; elevated levels can lead to an unwanted increase in blubber. Apply these eight tips to keep your sugar levels rock steady, free from slumping dives or unwanted rapid spikes.
If you have trouble staying lean when you are following a high-calorie bulking diet, then avoid sugar and stick with slower-burning carbs, such as oats, Cream of Rye cereal, rye bread, whole-grain bread and yams. If you are a bodybuilder with a higher percentage of bodyfat, you’ll tend to experience greater swings in sugar levels — sugar tends to whisk in and out of blood too quickly. That can leave you weak and tired, as well as elevate catabolic (muscle-wasting) hormones. If you have a fast metabolism and tend to remain lean when bulking, you can choose whatever carbohydrates you prefer at most times of the day. Lean bodybuilders naturally maintain more stable blood sugar levels, and steadier levels help build nearly fat-free muscle.
Egg whites and fish are great fat-free sources of protein, making them ideal for cutting up. For bulking up, it’s better to consume protein foods with some dietary fat in them to help keep blood sugar levels stabilized. Mix egg whites with whole eggs, replacing low-fat fish (such as tuna) with lean meat (such as steak) and low-fat cheese. Dietary fat helps keep sugar levels in line (by slowing down digestion), preventing them from dropping quickly. When your blood sugar levels are stable, two things occur: you grow and you sidestep the fat-gaining process.
Whey protein is a great source of muscle-building aminos, but whey can be absorbed and processed by your body in a way that can throw a curve ball at your blood sugar levels by affecting insulin. If you crash after eating and suddenly run out of energy, stick with a mix of whey and casein. A quick drop in energy is most likely to hit heavyset bodybuilders who have trouble staying lean. For them, a whey-casein mix is the superior protein choice. After exercise, consume whey for its quick-acting effects, and follow it up 30 to 45 minutes later with a whole-food meal. If it’s going to be longer than that before your next meal, add some casein to your whey-protein shake, which will slow down your digestion rate and prevent rapid ups and downs in blood sugar.
Bodybuilders often ask, “How much protein and carbs should I eat at each meal?” The answer varies greatly from person to person. An easy approach is to eat twice as many grams of carbs as protein. For example, if you consume 40 grams (g) of protein (roughly the amount in six ounces of beef), accompany it with 80 g of carbohydrates (two cups of cooked rice or two large yams). If you feel well and are gaining mass without much bodyfat, then that 2:1 ratio is fine. If you tend to feel weak or lethargic after meals, cut back on carbohydrates and slightly increase your protein intake. This adjustment — more protein and fewer carbs — alters the concentration of sugar in blood, helping you to feel better. Listen to your body. Feeling energetic and avoiding drops in energy are overlooked aspects in building mass.
American ginseng — about 1-2 g per day — can help keep sugar levels from crashing. When sugar levels plunge, the body reacts by putting out catabolic hormones. These muscle-wasting hormones interfere with muscle growth and repair. A daily dose of ginseng costs as little as 40 cents. Take 1-2 g of ginseng about 30-40 minutes before high-carb meals, especially fast-digesting carbs. Do not take it postworkout; that’s when you want carbs to digest as quickly as possible. Add one-half to one teaspoon of cinnamon to your morning oatmeal, or combine that amount of cinnamon with Splenda and sprinkle the mixture on rye toast. That should be enough to help stabilize blood sugar, leading to improved energy and growth with less fat storage.
Supplement with BCAAs Many bodybuilders take branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) before and after training to prevent muscle breakdown. Here’s a tip: also take them when your energy wanes. Supplement with 4-5 g of BCAAs at any time of day that you tend to crash. For some, that may be midmorning; for others, that could be mid or late afternoon. No matter the time of day when you tend to feel fatigued, the reason may be a drop in sugar levels. BCAAs help offset a crash by preventing the burning of sugars, allowing blood levels to remain stable. Again, stable sugar levels are correlated with growth and recovery.
Eat every 120-150 minutes. Small meals consumed every two to two-and-ahalf hours help keep sugar levels even, which contributes to a bigger and harder physique. If you train extremely hard and inherently have poor recovery ability, you may not be eating often enough. Going just three hours without eating could be enough time to make your sugar levels dip, reducing your ability to recover and grow to the max.
This isn’t a nutrition tip, but training and diet are inextricably connected. If you train too frequently or perform too many negatives, hormones and chemicals are dumped into the blood. These can severely
alter blood sugar levels, impacting recovery. Overtraining results in a state where muscles have difficulty uptaking sugar, leaving higher levels in blood. This, in turn, can actually stimulate fat storage! If you train hard but don’t overdo it, your blood sugar levels are apt to remain steady, a prerequisite for muscle repair. However, if you try to keep up with Mr. Olympia, you’re going to experience wild swings in sugar levels, which is not optimal for growth or recovery.
Blood sugar is a complicated and overlooked aspect of bodybuilding nutrition. By paying attention to what your body is telling you and to your hour-by-hour nutritional demands, you can help prevent your blood sugar levels from soaring out of control or plummeting too low. By modulating blood sugar, you can help maximize muscle growth and recovery.