The Fighters Guide to Good Carbs VS Bad Carbs
Source: Big Al’s Family Fitness
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates should account for up to 65 percent of your total daily caloric intake. For an active adult male ages 19-30, this means consuming as much as 1,950 calories from carbs per day (based on a 3,000 calorie per day diet). For a fighter who generally works out harder than most, this may even jump to 75 percent on workout days.
While there are a lot of diets out there that chastise carbs due to some inaccurate claim that they are the reason for weight gain, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fact is, your body needs carbs, especially in pre workout meals, to provide you sustained fuel for your workout.
Carbs create fuel, just like gas for a car, and you’ll want a sustained fuel source to get you through your rigorous fighting workouts.
Simple vs Complex Carbs
Not all carbs are created equal. There are the kinds of carbs that are digested and turned into fuel, or energy, quickly, called simple carbs. Then there are the carbs that are digested slowly in the body, called complex carbs, providing you with the sustained energy you need for lengthy workouts or multiple rounds in the ring. Here’s a breakdown of the two types:
- Simple Carbs: Simple carbs are digested and absorbed more quickly in the body than complex carbs. While these occur naturally in some food sources such as fruit, vegetables and milk products, a lot of simple carbs are found in processed foods and should be avoided due to their lack of nutrient value.
- Complex Carbs: Complex carbs are digested more slowly than simple carbs, providing the fighter with more sustained energy and keeping you fuller, longer.
When to Eat Simple Carbs
Simple carbs, while often victimized, are not always bad. You can eat simple carbs like a handful of fresh fruit to give you some quick energy. This is advisable if you don’t have time for a more nutrient-rich meal and are headed to your workout in the next 30 minutes.
When to Eat Complex Carbs
Complex carbs are broken down much more slowly than simple carbs and thus need to time to be useful as an energy source. This is why it is recommended that you eat a meal rich in complex carbs at least an hour before working out.
How to Shop for Carbs
As we learned above, it is ok to eat simple carbs like fruits and veggies and complex carbs like whole grain breads. The “bad carbs” that you’ll want to avoid next time you go shopping are the ones that have little to no nutrients such as most candies, sodas, refined breads, or sugary cereals.
- Fruits– Blueberries are a quick-absorbing carb and are loaded with antioxidants which are important for recovery. Bananas are also a great food for pre and post workouts as they are absorbed so quickly.
- Vegetables– Like fruit, these are important for every meal. These are usually fast digesting so use them for their nutrients but don’t rely on them for sustained energy. We like anything green – spinach, broccoli, salads, etc.
- Sweet Potatoes– One of the greatest foods of all time. These are a slow-digesting carb and can be consumed on their own or with a meal. These also provide 400% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin A.
- Nuts– Nuts, such as almonds or cashews, are a great carb source and simple to consume.
- Brown rice– Brown rice is a complex carb that digests slowly.
- White rice– White rice is a simple carb that digests quickly.
- Whole rye– Whole grain bread such as rye or wheat it a great source of carbs.
- Whole grain cereal– Forgo the Captain Crunch for your carb consumption; opt for something more nutrient-rich
While protein usually gets all the credit, it’s really carbs that should be taking up a larger percentage of your pre workout meals. Whenever possible, opt for healthy, non-processed sources of carbs and learn how to use a mix of simple and complex carbs based on your daily diet and workout routine.
Above all else, listen to your body. Gauge your workout performance and energy levels before and after altering your diet (pro tip: write this stuff down). If you find that you don’t have sustained energy, eat a handful or fruit before you get to the gym or mix in some carbs into your pre workout protein shake (try a 2:1 carb-to-protein ratio). For more advice workout nutrition, check out this Pre and Post Guide to Workout Nutrition.