LOW CARBOHYDRATE DOES NOT MEAN NO CARBOHYDRATE Of course that doesn’t mean that I’m advocating a zero-carbohydrate diet for bodybuilders or any other athletes. Keep in mind that “low carbohydrate” does not mean “no carbohydrate.” But rather than carbohydrate-based foods, I tend to favor fiber-based foods like vegetables and some fruits that happen to have what I call “incidental” carbohydrates, because the amount of sugar is relatively low. Fiber is crucial for good health and a strong body.
There are basically two types of fibers: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers like those in oatmeal are able to dissolve in water and become gummy, or viscous. Soluble fibers help lower blood cholesterol levels and help regulate the body’s use of sugars. So some small amount of soluble fiber is a good thing in the diet, even though a few carbohydrates come along with it. For the bodybuilder looking to gain lean mass while keeping body fat down, insoluble fiber like that found in salad roughage is particularly beneficial. In addition to being loaded with naturally occurring minerals, trace minerals, and ultra-trace minerals, insoluble fiber foods are also powerful cancer-fighting anticarcinogens and digestive aids. Because “high-protein, low-carbohydrate” diets tend to cause constipation, adding this type of fiber is also critical for regular bowel movements. Another nice thing about insoluble fiber is, unlike soluble fiber, it is not calorie-dense. Therefore you can and should have relatively large helpings of insoluble fiber. Veggies like lettuce, kale, cabbage, collard greens, celery, peppers, spinach, squash, onions, cucumber, asparagus, green beans, snap peas, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, etc., are just some examples of healthy fiber-based choices and should be a significant part of any athlete’s diet, not just a bodybuilder’s.
Finally, I know I’m still going to hear a landslide of objections from die-hard proponents of a moderate- to high-carbohydrate diet for muscle building. The legions of detractors would point to the fact that insulin is, by itself, an anabolic hormone. But while this is true, high insulin levels are dangerous because it creates insulin resistance and diabetes. In addition, excess levels turn on lipogenesis (the process of making fat in the body) in order to dump the high-sugar loads out of the bloodstream.
What they didn’t realize back then was that we can get the benefits of insulin without using carbohydrates. The fact is that arginine, alanine, and the branched-chain amino acids (isoleucine, leucine, and valine), as well as glutamine found in whey protein are reasonably insulin-producing or “insulinogenic” without adding excess sugar calories. In addition, the insulin response to these amino acid proteins is far different and far better than the insulin response to sugar. Insulinogenic amino acids produce a much softer and more physiologic rise in insulin, in sharp contrast to the high insulin spike seen in response to the “toxic” presence of excess carbohydrate. This vigorous insulin response to sugar is an unnatural reflexive dumping pathway by which your body purges itself of what the physiology interprets as somewhat of a poison (i.e., too much blood sugar). Do it too many times and the body shuts down and you end up resistant to any effect insulin might have to either bring down blood sugar or stimulate muscle growth. As long as you are eating plenty of high-quality protein, you don’t have worry about losing out on the anabolic benefits a small amount of insulin might provide. Your body will still produce an ample supply if it needs to, just not an excessive supply in reactive response to a high blood sugar. So, carbohydrates are in no way essential to the diet, be it for general health or for gaining muscle mass. So train hard, eat smart, and grow big!
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