The Perfect Carb for Bodybuilders

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Did you know, that in eastern cultures like Japan or China, the number of diabetic or obese people was far the lowest in the world, until western eating habits gained a foothold in these countries, too? As we already know, the main culprit for fat gains is not fat but excess carbohydrate intake. But if this is the biggest problem basically, then how come nations with a traditionally high rice consumption are the least affected by the above-mentioned civilization diseases? Many health or diet systems condemn rice an unfavorable carb source. The reason is usually its high glycemic index. Or, they just label it as a “bad guy”, as they do to any starch-based source. “Rice is bad, OK?” But this cannot be so black-and-white. This time we will talk about probably one of the best carb sources for bodybuilders and athletes in general: rice. And you can also learn from this article why brown rice may not be as good as you might have thought so far!

The athlete's whole-food fuel

Fact: the healthiest cultures in the world eat a diet that is based on starch from vegetable sources, typically white rice. Please don’t get me wrong: if you're a sedentary, de-conditioned, overweight, or metabolically diseased human, white rice may be no better for you than cake. But if you're an anaerobic athlete or iron warrior that's consistently leaving blood and sweat on the bar, white rice (not brown) can be a great carb source to fuel your workouts, for several reasons. Just to mention a few:

  • It is gluten free, therefore it is also ideal for sufferers of certain food allergies
  • It doesn’t burden the intestinal system: it will not make you full or bloated, nor does it cause digestive irritation
  • It doesn’t block the absorption of other nutrients
  • It is easily and quickly digestible, therefore your body can easily convert it to muscle glycogen after intense physical activity

The Perfect Carb for Bodybuilders

And these are just a few of the benefits.

Looking at diet plans that eliminate starch-based carbs and virtually label starches as “deadly”, we may draw the conclusion that these approaches are quite rigid and stubborn from the viewpoint of sports nutrition, considering the fact that they fail to take an important factor (physical performance) into account. Just think about all the aspects that need to be kept in mind when planning a dietary regimen for an athlete. These SHOULD include quality sources of carbohydrates:

  • You should supply your body with all the essential macro and micronutrients which are inevitable for muscle build, the recovery of tissues and connective tissues (and recovery in general), besides maintaining numberless life functions.
  • You should supply your body with enough fuel and energy so you can do proper training based on your physical activity, but without increasing your fat deposits.
  • In order to make sure both the above prerequisites are met, you should eliminate all anti-nutrients, as these would impair protein digestion and the absorption of vitamins and minerals.

That’s OK so far. But what does this have to do with carb intake?

Many people eat brown rice, saying its glycemic index is much better and it contains much more fiber than white rice does. On the other hand, it’s difficult to eat in large amounts, quite complicated to prepare and not particularly tasty either (even though it’s just a matter of taste). Plus, you better know that brown rice is in fact an anti-nutrient.

You better know that brown rice is in fact an anti-nutrient.

After all, what makes brown rice brown? It’s bran, which is removed in the milling process. So, brown rice is rice fully in itself, unpeeled. Rice bran contains a compound called phytic acid. This compound impairs protein digestion and blocks the absorption of minerals, and it is undoubtedly responsible for digestive irritation. You may feel good and sated, but you should not fall for the illusion that all these “good” fibers would help you get a lean physique: it is not a favorable condition when you can wave goodbye to some of the proteins you have consumed; plus, you expose your system to potential inflammation. This might even lead to chronic inflammatory bowel disease, which is a first step towards more serious intestinal disorders.

From brown to white...

So, rice is naturally brown, and it becomes white through the above-mentioned process. And the end product is a complete source of starch, which fuels the body with clean energy and is free from anti-nutrients including phytic acid. It will help you gain muscle and at the same time, avoid bloating, a constant feeling of fullness or other intestinal symptoms. Plus, the nutrients you consume will all reach their destinations, provided that there is no serious problem with your digestive tract. It's one of the few exceptions where food refining can actually be beneficial for human health. Let’s face it: this is quite rare in the food industry nowadays. Of course this doesn’t mean that brown rice cannot fit into a bodybuilder’s diet. It only gets messy when it gets predominant in the diet, which means that more phytic acid enters the body. So, if you consume one meal a day with brown rice, you don’t need to renounce it. However, you better not make brown rice a dietary staple.

Of course this doesn’t mean that brown rice cannot fit into a bodybuilder’s diet.

I know, all you can hear is that whole-grain stuff is so much better, and everything should be full complex, loaded with fiber etc. Still a lot of people complain that they are following a high-fiber diet with oatmeal, brown rice, whole grains etc., still they are so constipated that they cannot do a number 2 for a week. We need fiber, no doubt about that. In appropriate amounts.But exceeding the optimal amount is easier than you might think. Too much fiber is just as bad for the digestive tract and slows down bowel movements just as a low-fiber diet does.

The “GI-paranoia”

It makes much more sense to enrich your meals with vegetables, and ta-dah: the white rice with a “deadly” GI is not so “deadly” any more (as it is not deadly at all, by default). The common belief that the GI of white rice too high, is quite exaggerated. Surprising it may sound, but even a protein shake triggers an insulin response. So does brown rice, and white rice even more. However, it is important to make a distinction between insulin levels consistently fluctuating between high levels, which is a result of a poor diet, and occasional, acute insulin responses. As we have written about it before, a strong insulin response may lead to fat gains. However, this hormone has anabolic and anti-catabolic effects as well: it also transports amino acids and nutrients to the muscle tissues, to the muscle cells. So, it’s quite narrow-minded to say that rice is no better than junk food, considering glycemic index only.

And the fact that white rice makes an integral part of bodybuilders’ diets (for competitors as well as everyday lifters) cannot be overlooked. All that matters is timing and portion size. It works, and this has been proven a million times. Believe me: buns will never do the same job.

And to keep the paleo-hysteria from breaking out...

Now let’s devote a few words to this matter, too. There are several paleo trends, but there is basically one thing they all have in common: low carb intake. Paleo doesn’t take your level of activity into account, let alone your bodybuilding lifestyle. The intake of starch-based carbs, occasionally even with a high GI, can be important for those who perform high-intensity workout that depletes glycogen deposits. Such workout requires glucose. Fats or ketones cannot be utilized as energy resources during workout. A low-carb paleo diet may lead to muscle loss, and the result will be a skinny-fat physique. Anaerobic exercise will not cause you to lose fat but muscle. And if you are on a diet of about 80 grams of carbs (which is quite typical for a paleo diet), you are risking a “model figure”: Skinny-fat. This cannot go on in the long run: sooner or later, you may face symptoms like slow metabolism, poor insulin sensitivity, low testosterone levels, weak immune system, fatigue, irritability or insomnia.

To sum it up: besides other good carb sources, white rice can be a golden standard for athletes.

And that’s when a compromise could come into the picture. In this case, some starch-based carb sources e.g. white rice at critical moments. For example, after workout. We had an article about this hybrid approach. Check it out if you are interested.

To sum it up: besides other good carb sources, white rice can be a golden standard for athletes. It is a clean source of starch without anti-nutrients, therefore it can be a perfect solution especially for sufferers of food allergies. And if you have always refueled with rice, keep calm: You are doing it right!

Drink shake and eat white rice!

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