Understand the true difference between good- and bad-carbs.

May 14, 2008

Written by FLEX Staff

If only all carbohydrates were the same, then maybe the line between “good” and “bad” carbs wouldn’t be so blurred, giving us a diet regimen that is smooth sailing. Alas, this is not the case. Carbohydrate counting has been an essential element in bodybuilding diets for decades. Because of this, companies have begun creating numerous low-carb nutrition bars that promise to follow this diet trend.

If you’re wondering why these “low-carb” labels haven’t popped out at you already, it’s because the FDA prohibits them. Because there is no legal definition of what “low-carb” means, they cannot make those claims. So, you’ve got to learn to read the labels, and get to know your carbs.


The definition of a carbohydrate between the government and a bodybuilder are completely opposite. The government strictly regulates how ingredients are defined and listed on nutritional supplements, so it is up to you to translate the information for your own use. You must learn how to distinguish the carbs you need to count from those you don’t need to worry about.

There are an assortment of carbohydrates in the foods we consume. Some are harmless, and others are calorie-riddled and should be avoided whenever possible. Here, we break them down:

Glucose: This is the bodybuilder’s carb. It is the main carbohydrate source of energy in the body, but it is also loaded with calories. So, if you’re goal is to cut carbs, glucose reduction would do you good. This includes starches (white flour), which are nothing more than glucose molecules chemically linked together. Steer clear!

Cellulose: Ah, good ol’ cellulose. It is not digested and passes through the body mostly unchanged. Still, labels include cellulose in the carb count. That’s why you need to do your research, and not factor these carbs into your daily chart. Cellulose is found in roughage such as lettuce and green vegetables.

The other carbs you don’t need to count for bodybuilding purposes include glycerol (glycerin), maltitol, sorbitol (both sugar substitutes) and fiber, as they do not metabolize the way glucose does. But, these are another group of carbs the government is required to add to nutrition labels.

Read The Label
Labels often spell it out for you. Manufacturers are now providing additional statements, usually placed below the Nutrition Facts box. There you will find an explanation of which carbohydrates contribute to calories and which do not. Look at the label of a nutrition bar and check out the subcomponent lines “Dietary Fiber” and “Sugars” under Total Carbs. Most importantly, do not count grams of fiber in your daily carb total.

It all may seem daunting at first, but once you learn to read labels, differentiate between good and bad carbs and what foods they occupy, you’ll be well on your way to a fitness plan ripe with carbohydrates (the good kind, of course). FLEX.

FLEX FORUMS: Discuss your diet with fellow bodybuilders.

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