Carbs: Friend Not Foe
Why Carbs Must Not be Feared and How to Maximize Their Consumption.
Whether the goal is to achieve more muscle, better performance and, yes, optimal muscular definition, carbohydrates are one macro that, according to many experienced lifters and training experts, must never be overlooked. Yet, how to structure this crucial ‘energy’ macro into one’s training plan remains one of the more contentious issues in all of the bodybuilding today.
For some, carbs mean excess fat gain and must, therefore, be reduced when cutting up for a contest or the beach. For others, carbs mean extreme muscular fullness and more training intensity and are thus to be included preferentially. For the ketogenic crowd, carbs are all but eliminated and replaced with fat so as to maximize fat loss and health.
So what is the truth about carbohydrate consumption? Must we ditch them to ditch the fat and improve athletic performance? Or should we prioritize their inclusion to becoming bigger, more shredded and better performing? Keep reading to discover the best way forward.
how to structure this crucial ‘energy’ macro into one’s training plan remains one of the more contentious issues in all of the bodybuilding today.
For average people looking to get in respectable shape, carbs have, as of late, become persona non grata among the essential macros. When striving to lose weight many will avoid carbs like the plague, such is this macro’s undeserved reputation for stalling fat loss. And indeed carbs can, under certain circumstances, prevent us from achieving our physical objectives – but only when not given due respect.
The issue many have with carbs comes down to three important factors: the kinds of carbs consumed, the quantity of carbs consumed, and the timing of carb consumption.
The problem with carb consumption, for many, is one of ignorance.
Most people are not aware of the beneficial nature of carbs and unfortunately lump them all in the same category: that of a blood-sugar-spiking, energy-dense, adipose accumulating nutrient that’s to be feared rather than embraced.
When one is asked why they are not losing weight fast enough, a typical response might be: “too many carbs.” However, a better response is likely to be, “poorly-timed and excessive poor quality carb consumption.”
By eating the wrong kinds of carbs (breads, highly-processed foods, and otherwise sugar-saturated fare), fat gain and poor mental and physical performance is almost inevitable. Even so-called good carbs eaten in excess and/or consumed too frequently can promote unwanted weight gain and suboptimal performance. However, not making the distinction between good and bad carbs, many choose to ditch them for the most part (or, at least, severely curtail their consumption). Wrong move!
In fact, by reducing the ubiquitous carbs below optimal levels you’ll likely promote the release of fat-depositing and muscle scavenging cortisol (as well as disrupting the beneficial testosterone/cortisol ratio); depressed mood and poor motivation levels; fat gain irrespective of cortisol release; disease-encouraging inflammation and the associated inability to fully recover from training; less energy with which to train all-out; flat, depleted muscles and less muscle growth.1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27
By basing one’s carb intake around both raw and cooked vegetables (of all descriptions), certain fruits, whole grain fare including, occasionally, breads, and brown rice the above-listed barriers to training success are less likely to be a problem for you. In addition, by consuming more carbs earlier in the day and fewer (more fibrous types like broccoli and leafy greens) in the evening hours, we may lose fat at a faster rate.
It must also be remembered that everyone is different when it comes to carb intake. Some need more, some need less, depending on multiple factors – including but not limited to age, genetics, activity level and specific training/exercise goals. However, one thing many fitness/bodybuilding experts will agree upon is that we must include a well-balanced ratio of them for optimal health, performance and body composition. Below are several key benefits to be derived from the well-structured intake of quality carbs.
Benefits of Carbs Consumption
If you want more muscle then you better make sure that along with at least 1 gram of quality protein per pound of body weight per day that your carb intake is also optimal.
The ways in which carbs are beneficial for muscle growth are many.
First, a properly balanced intake of quality carbs improves the testosterone to cortisol ratio, with studies consistently showing low carb diets to have the reverse effect: more catabolic cortisol and less anabolic testosterone. 1, 5, 9, 18, 19, 26
While a high cortisol/low testosterone ratio is a recipe for muscle depletion and fat deposition (an outcome no one wants), a high testosterone/low cortisol environment is most conducive to bodybuilding progress and performance improvements, carbohydrate intake being essential to this process. 5, 9
Low carb diets may also lead to muscle breakdown irrespective of protein intake. This is due in large part to a lowering of arguably the most anabolic hormone of them all: insulin. Provided insulin levels are kept within an optimal range (depending on activity level and specific levels needed in and around training etc), this size building hormone will not, contrary to what many believe, produce more rolls of fat than seen on an episode of the Biggest Loser. In fact, without sufficient insulin circulating at specific times, an anabolic hormonal environment conducive to quality gains in size and strength cannot be fully achieved, period.
While excessive insulin may lead to the storage of body fat and the inhibition of fat burning, when used judiciously it’ll assist the muscle growth process better than any other hormone (such as its effectiveness that some bodybuilders use it pre-contest to enhance muscle growth above and beyond what may be achieved with both steroids and growth hormone – a practice that’s not recommended here).
First, insulin directly stimulates protein synthesis by enabling ribosomes (complex molecular particles which live in the cytoplasm of cells and link amino acids together to make specific proteins) to make more muscle. In the same way, insulin also inhibits the catabolism of muscle by preventing muscle breakdown. Thus it’s both anabolic and anti-catabolic; the best of both bodybuilding worlds.
Perhaps best known for its crucial role in nutrient partitioning, insulin is needed for the storage of both carbohydrates (in the form of muscle and liver glycogen) and amino acids. Specifically, insulin is responsible for an increase in the activity of key enzymes such as glycogen synthase, which stimulates glycogen formation in muscle tissue. Thus, insulin is crucial for storing glycogen in muscle to increase muscle size, optimize performance and aid recovery from intensive training. Without enough glycogen, muscles are flat and less round and full (just ask any bodybuilder coming off a carb depletion phase).
Without the uptake of key amino acids (notable the BCAAs), muscle tissue stands little chance of growing in response to any training stimulus, however effective it may be. By actively transporting BCAAs into muscle tissue, insulin plays an extremely important role in muscle protein synthesis (growth).
While not discounting other nutritional approaches, it’s clear that a diet without sufficient carbs will not ‘give rise’ to the muscle we spend so much time seeking to develop.
Now that we’ve addressed bodybuilding’s Holy Grail with respect to carb intake, let’s take a look at some other benefits to be gained by wisely incorporating this important macro.
Optimal training intensity and muscle growth stimulation in the gym go hand in hand with proper recovery and nutrition. One without the other will not give you the results you want. So, before getting under that bar and cranking out rep after rep you must be sure that your glycogen stores are full. This means proper carb consumption – not just prior to working out, but at all times (after all, the carbs we use for training energy are those that were ‘deposited’ into muscle 2-3 days prior).
Carbohydrates are universally recognized as being the primary nutrient for sustaining and improving physical performance.17
Known to optimize time to exhaustion and endurance capacity better than any other macronutrient, carbs, when consumed in conjunction with adequate proteins and fats, are considered the king of performance nutrients.4, 11, 14, 16, 20, 21
Specifically for hard training bodybuilders, glycogen availability is crucial for the resynthesis of ATP.11, 16 Greater ATP turn-over during intensive training means one more rep than might otherwise be achieved. Additional reps and increased intensity of training due to the more efficient production of energy can make all the difference when seeking to add an extra pound of quality muscle.
For improved focus and concentration, carbs deliver. Brain energy is derived almost exclusively from carbohydrates. In fact, low carb diets have gained a reputation for adversely affecting brain function. That groggy-feeling some bodybuilders get pre-contest? A lower than normal carb intake is probably to blame. Many people become forgetful and lethargic later in the day. Here, a missed lunch or poor quality carb choices are likely culprits.
For bodybuilders, the activation and drive of the central nervous system are imperative when seeking to improve training focus and strength output.21
By including the right quantity of quality carbs (remembering that excessive carb intake can skyrocket blood sugar and promote extreme lethargy), mental functioning is optimized. This is important for bodybuilders, as being mentally supercharged prior to working out could be the single most important growth factor of all (keep reading to learn about the best carb sources for optimizing workout performance).
Finally, without proper recovery from training, impressive muscle gains cannot be achieved. Thus performance and recovery are mutually beneficial determinants of training progress. Besides promoting glycogen and amino acid storage, driving down cortisol, optimizing muscle protein synthesis, and improving thyroid function (to be discussed in more detail soon), all of which enhance recovery from training, carbohydrates and the concomitant release of insulin helps suppress the production of post-training reactive oxygen species (a free radical which produces oxidative stress in muscle tissue). In doing so, carbs provide a powerful antioxidant effect to further enhance recovery and boost immune function.10
As mentioned, carbs provide adequate energy with which to train all out. Also mentioned above is the fact that carbs enhance recovery and directly assist with the muscle building process. These factors combine to cloak our bodies with impressive amounts of metabolically-active muscle. The more muscle we have, the more in the way of fat we may burn at rest (such is the metabolically active nature of muscle tissue).
Aside from its muscle building, and thus metabolic-enhancing benefits, carbs also optimize the production of a hormone called T-3 (triiodothyronine, the more metabolically active of the two main thyroid hormones, the other being T 4, or thyroxine).2, 7, 8, 22, 23 Important for blood glucose regulation and metabolic function, T 3 is one of the most important of all fat burning hormones. It’s also a frequently overlooked factor in the quest to shrink-wrap skin to muscle.
The problem with low carbohydrate (and low calorie) diets is that they inhibit the production of T 3, thus thwarting the fat burning response. As well as restricting T 3, low carbs correspondingly increase the production of another hormone called reverse-T 3 (which inhibits T 3 production to further stifle fat loss). By maintaining carbs at healthy levels, T 3 is kept stable while reverse-T 3-production is lessened.7, 22
Not only does T 3 assist fat burning, but it also benefits overall health and energy while boosting motivation. By ensuring the proper intake of quality carbs, T 3 may function unabated and we may enjoy the many health benefits this powerful hormone provides.
Mood, cognition, motivation and overall mental well-being count for a lot when wanting to maximize workout effectiveness and enhance recovery. A stressed and agitated mindset (easy to develop in today’s fast-paced world) can lead to a chronic outpouring of cortisol, which in turn puts the brakes on muscle growth and makes fat burning a near impossibility.19 Second, training intensity cannot be fully generated when one’s focus is misplaced and/or impaired.
In addition to providing the requisite energy for optimal brain functioning, carbohydrates allow for the adequate production of the important ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin.3, 6, 13, 25 As well as calming the mind and increasing motivation and general mental wellbeing, serotonin improves quality of sleep due to its ability to suppress the activation of the hypocretin neurons which energize the brain.6 Serotonin, therefore, enables restful sleep and, thus, proper recovery and growth.
A New Way Forward
For the average person wanting to improve general health and drop a few pounds, the proper intake of regular carb sources (like those mentioned above, and others) may be sufficient.
For bodybuilders and otherwise devoted and serious gym dwellers whose performance and physique goals require more attention to detail, a more sophisticated and advanced approach to optimizing training output, building size and shaping up via the strategic intake of carbs is needed.
From a muscle building standpoint, ensuring that the right amount of insulin secretion and subsequent carb storage and utilization in and around workouts is especially important. To fully enjoy the above-listed benefits while making sure that each workout is as productive as possible, it’s vital that the right carbs are taken at the right times.
Poor pre and post-workout carb choices can prove extremely costly in this regard – not just in reducing energy but also in promoting fat storage and less muscle protein synthesis.
Furthermore, bloating and the blood-sugar spiking which leads to a hypoglycemic energy crash are very real possibilities when injudiciously carbing up.
Fortunately, there is now a newly-developed, research-backed, phase-delivered supplement that provides a steady supply of training energy, enhances insulin secretion, and fully replenishes muscle glycogen stores for extreme growth – all while enhancing recovery and promoting fuller, rounder muscles. With it, there’s no need to risk another training session with high-glycemic carb mixes or ineffective carb assimilation and storage.
With the newly reformulated Carbion+, a vast number of bodybuilding benefits can be enjoyed (go here for a full analysis of what it can do for you). In particular, Carbion+ will give you the edge in training intensity, endurance output, and rapid gains in both size and strength. How? Before Carbion+ and its specifically engineered blend of performance carbs, simple sugars and long-chain complex carbs were the only real options.
While popular simple carb choices such as dextrose, provide a quick energy boost, these also result in gastrointestinal distress, stomach discomfort, bloating and hypoglycemic crashing resulting in a sharp drop-off in energy output.
Long-chain complex carbs, waxy maize being one of the more effective, take a long time to break down in the small intestine and are thus improperly absorbed in time for one’s workout. With both sources, the energy is not there when you need it.
But there is a solution: medium-long-chain carbs with bonds which are more readily broken down by digestive enzymes in the small intestine. The best of these is Cyclo-D, a highly-soluble carb that’s specifically engineered to increase endurance output, time to exhaustion and muscle glycogen replenishment. In fact, studies have shown that Cyclo-D, a major ingredient found in Carbion+, can increase the time to exhaustion by as much as 50%.
Along with Cyclo-D, Carbion+ also contains four different forms of maltodextrin (a PER4ORM blend of four different chain lengths) to provide a phased-supply of carbs for all stages of a workout.
Once Cyclo-D has provided a massive energy hit to power through the first part of training, the four maltodextrins kick in to provide, in phase-delivery-fashion, the energy needed to complete the session on all cylinders. If this wasn’t enough, smaller amounts of waxy maize and coconut water power (both effective performance nutrients in their own right) are included to ensure that full training intensity is achieved right till the end.
By supplementing with Carbion+ before and after each workout you’ll have enough fuel to grind through the toughest session, muscle proteins are kept intact, cortisol levels remain suppressed, and both muscle glycogen is re-synthesized and muscle protein synthesis is elevated at a faster rate post-workout due to greater insulin stability and subsequent nutrient delivery.
Carb Up to Flesh Out
Commonly regarded as an energy nutrient with great fat-storage potential, carbohydrates are more of a performance enhancer/musclebuilding macro than most people realize. They need not be the villainous nutrient many believe them to be.
By suppressing cortisol, enhancing the release of fat burning hormones, optimizing testosterone output, increasing motivation and mental wellbeing, contributing to gains in lean muscle and significantly boosting performance this primary ‘energy’ macro should form an essential part of any good bodybuilding plan of attack.
Besides including the best carb sources in the right amounts and at the right times, the best way forward for all serious bodybuilders is to optimize carb storage, utilization, and performance by supplementing with Carbion+. By doing so you’ll not only maximize the full array of benefits (as outlined above) but also experience the best workouts of your lifting career.
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