How many former (or even current) carb-o-phobics do we have out there? I’m sure most of us can agree that refined sources of carbs such as most breads, white rice, white flour, sugar, and even added sugars are not the best way to get our energy-boosting carbs. However, if you’re one of the many that fear healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash and even wholesome grains like oats, quinoa, millet, or teff, we have to tell you that you’re truly missing out on some beneficial nutrients that will make you reconsider eliminating carbs from your diet.
Though drastically cutting carbs can reduce weight temporarily (which is mostly water weight initially), cutting them long term is not a smart choice. Whole food carbs provide key nutrients that don’t just promote heart-healthy fibers and vitamins and minerals. They also cause a reaction in your body that contributes to lean muscle mass – despite the myth that they do the opposite. Complex carbs on other levels also nourish the nervous system and when eaten in balance, they are a great choice to maintain a lean body mass over a longer span of time than maintaining a diet that cuts out a complete nutrient source.
Why Complex Carbs Are a Gold Mine for Your Muscles
To appreciate the benefits of carbs, it’s first important to understand how carbs work in the body. First, the human body is smart; whenever we cut an important nutrient from our diet, our bodies have to work to make up for the difference. This is one reason so many people eat fat-free and wonder why they gain weight, or cut protein and wonder why they lose muscle mass. When it comes to carbs, they not only cause you to lose energy, but can also reduce the ability of your muscles to create lean muscle tissue.
Muscle cells require not just protein and vital fats to function and perform, but they also require carbs to one, propel energy, and two, to recover and rebuild those muscle tissues, which are torn down during exercise. Have you ever looked at a bodybuilder’s diet? They do not cut these healthy sources of carbs out, and that’s on purpose. Brown rice, oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes, squash, and other quality carbs are commonly eaten among athletes and bodybuilders because of the way these foods build lean muscle mass and even cut fat from the body! The fibers these foods contain aren’t the only reason either.
How to Use Complex Carbs and Protein for Best Results
Muscle tissues need glycogen for repair, and guess what helps restore glycogen to the cells? Complex carbs! Complex carbs also help the body heal (especially overnight) as your body recovers during sleep, and right after exercise. Pairing complex carbs with protein is an even smarter choice because lean proteins (beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, hemp protein and pea protein) are utilized better when whole carbs are eaten with them. The reason being that glycogen is better restored with the use of complex carbs, which assists protein in reaching the cells more quickly and efficiently. This also helps you build AND maintain lean muscle mass which burns body fat even at rest. See if you’re getting enough protein with some of our helpful tips if that’s a concern.
Putting it All Together: Protein, Carbs and Fats for Good Muscle Health
Plus, whole grains and other complex carbs fight body fat that can come from a diet heavy in too many fat-containing foods or processed foods. Sugary carbs are not what we’re talking here, but lower sugar, high fiber foods. All whole grains, root vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, and beans and legumes are the leanest source of complex carbs to enjoy. You also need small amounts of healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, or olives to help reduce inflammation and help your body absorb nutrients.
And of course, don’t forget your protein (like we had to remind you, but couldn’t resist). Need some healthy protein sources? See all of the plant-based options available, and when it comes to more complex carbs tips, check out Carbs Up! Here are the Best Ones to Eat. For all you ladies that are still in fear of the sweet potatoes, oats, and other healthy carbs, be sure to check out our Sample Meal Plans for the Female Vegan Athlete to see how to work complex carbs into your athletic plan.
Now, go enjoy yourself a sweet potato, some quinoa, brown rice, or whatever other carb you enjoy. We have a variety of recipes to suit your fancy. Just be sure to get plenty of veggies in your diet, move daily, and use those carbs the way they were meant to be used – to exercise and stay active!
What complex carbs are your favorite to eat?
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