The Very Best Complex Carbohydrates For Building Muscle
(This is an installment in our 'A-List' for carbohydrates.)
These are the "money" or "perfect" carbohydrates if you are trying to build lean mass or gain weight.
If you are trying to lose weight, you won't be eating these carbs, at least not on our watch.
These are the "staples" and should make up the majority of your diet if that is your goal.
Their glycemic load is neither too high (can encourage fat gain) or too low (doesn't encourage muscle growth).
At least one of these staple carbohydrates should be present in most of your meals if your goal is to build muscle.
Accompany them with clean protein and healthful fats. As long as you are lifting weights with intensity, it will turn to muscle.
(Steel Cut Oats or Scottish/Slow-Cook Oatmeal)
Meet your new favorite breakfast food.
Meet your new eat it 4 times a day food.
Before we discuss -
We are talking about quality steel cut or slow-cook Oatmeal.
We are NOT talking about "instant" Oatmeal or those low-quality puny processed Oatmeal flakes that look like sawdust or pencil shavings.
That stuff is high-glycemic.
Combine it with milk and unless you workout extremely hard (or take HGH) you might has well be eating waffles with syrup or "Dessert for Breakfast". Unfortunately, I ate "Quick Oats" for years (2001-2005) because I didn't know the difference or want to take the 2 extra minutes to cook the good stuff.
There are two groups that should avoid Oatmeal however-
- People with Celiac Disease and/or a hypersensitivity to gluten.
- People who are very prone to uric acid-related symptoms (kidney stones, gout, etc.).
Everyone else looking to gain lean mass or needs a healthful-not-going-to-turn-into-fat source of carbohydrates should be eating Oatmeal nearly everyday.
Oatmeal is an athlete's and bodybuilder’s staple food.
It's collection of good protein, good carbohydrates and a good source of balanced fiber (55% soluble, 45% insoluble) that prevents it from digesting too fast and potentially turning into fat.
It’s a great source of lasting clean energy, more specifically energy derived from complex carbohydrates that doesn't usually turn into fat if it isn't spent.
It contains "Beta-glucan" which is clinically proven to lower "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides and the potential for heart disease.
Oatmeal has more protein and fiber than just about ANY cereal. And it has NO SUGAR.
It's pretty versatile, you can -
- throw protein powder in it, sugar-free coffee creamer, stir
- throw Oatmeal in protein shakes (you don't have to cook it), blend
- throw flavored Stevia in it
- throw peanut butter in it (and warm it up)
- throw sugar-free honey and non-fat Greek yogurt in it
- throw fruit in it (banana, berries, etc.)
- throw nuts and sugar-free syrup in it
- make sugar-free pancakes, muffins or cookies with it (add Stevia/Splenda)
It's all fabulous.
I encourage you to cook it in unsweetened almond milk (or water) if you aren't looking to gain weight.
Making it in almond milk makes it creamier than water.
You can put it in the microwave (follow the directions), but it's going to be better for you (and lower glycemic) if you cook it at a medium temperature on the stovetop.
Which Oatmeal to Consider
This is super important. The instant stuff is complete garbage.
These are the ones to consider, your regular grocery store may or may not have these-
(ALL OF THESE will be better tasting and better for you than any Oatmeal you've had. Promise.)
About the Complex Carbohydrates In Oatmeal
The carbohydrates found in Oatmeal is termed a "polysaccharide" meaning it is made up of many long carbohydrate single molecules – hence the term complex carbohydrate. Simple carbohydrates are termed monosaccharides as they are made up of just one molecule of carbohydrate. Because the polysaccharide contains multiple carbohydrate molecules held together by special bonds, it takes the body longer to break it down into a monosaccharide. This is why simple carbohydrates, such as sugar or processed foods, are quickly digested and cause a sudden spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Complex carbohydrates do not have this same effect on insulin nor blood glucose.
Other health benefits of Oatmeal include its ability help to lower cholesterol naturally and its ability to help to reduce the risk of heart disease. The reason why Oatmeal has such health benefits lies in its beta glucan content. Oat meal is rich in beta glucans. Beta glucans are a special type of soluble fiber commonly found in products derived from oats, barley or cereal bran.
Not only is Oatmeal good for putting on muscle, but it's also one of the Healthiest Foods on Earth according to Dr. Jonny Bowden, PhD., CNS.
(Whole-Grain, Long-Grain, Organic)
This one shouldn't be a surprise either.
Smart bodybuilders and athletes have been eating it for years.
Like Oatmeal, you definitely want to AVOID the "instant" or "minute" rice.
You want Organic, Whole-Gain, preferably Long-Grain, Brown Rice.
Minute (or low-quality) rice is high-glycemic and closer to fat-storing simple carbohydrates than energy-promoting, muscle-building complex carbohydrates.
Buy organic Brown Rice, it's cheap. The other stuff isn't worth putting inside your mouth.
Hopefully you took note of the word "Brown," we want Brown Rice.
White rice, Yellow (Spanish) rice, Rice Pilaf are less desirable because of the glycemic issues. Wild rice is usually the 2nd most desirable. If you have to get one of those type, make sure it's SLOW-COOKED and organic, if possible.
High-quality rice with significant nutritional values takes 45 to 50 minutes to cook. Just make a lot at once, it keeps in the fridge for 1 week. Put some extra virgin olive oil on each serving and reheat it in the microwave.
Brown Rice is also more nutritious than white rice. This is because, white rice has been processed significantly more, while Brown Rice is left in a more natural state. During processing, only a small layer is removed from the rice grain to produce Brown Rice, whilst several layers are removed in order to produce white rice. The layers removed to produce white rice include the bran, the endosperm and the germ. These are both rich in fatty acids, fiber, iron and B vitamins.
Organic Brown Rice is significantly more nutritious than other choices and has more (and more potent) plant lignins (especially 'enterolactone' - a strong anti-cancer compound which also may fight excess estrogen).
Organic Brown Rice, like many of the choices on this list, is clinically proven to help control your blood sugar and insulin levels. The reverse is true for white rice.
Don't think for a second that controlling your blood glucose isn't important if you trying to gain weight or trying to build muscle. If you let these levels get out of the control, on regular basis, you'll put on FAT, no matter how hard you train.
There's hundreds of varieties that account for the 550+ million tons of rice that are produced every year. While it's hard to stereotype rice, it's not impossible- the vast majority of it is garbage, if you are trying to build an aesthetically pleasing, healthy body.
In fact, the white rice that shows up in the United States is particularly awful. While Asian countries consume massive amounts of white rice and don't get super fat, the quality of their white rice is DRAMATICALLY BETTER than the crap on the grocery store shelves in our embarrassingly, yet proudly obese country. The processed commercial rice at American grocery stores would never be sold in most Asian countries, nor be considered "food".
If you were curious, 'Rice Bran Oil' is terrible for you. It has a high level of Omega-6 Fatty Acid (the ones that cause imflammation) and low levels of Omega-3's. Avoid this crap.
"Rice Milk" is only meant for people that are lactose-intolerant and can't stomach milk. It's full of sugar and it's a lousy choice for even them to drink.
Which Brown Rice to Consider
If you have a nice organic store nearby, chances are- they have these selections and it will be easier to find than high-quality Oatmeal.
Remember- avoid the mainstream commerical brands such as Uncle Ben's and Kraft.
Here's the kind I would recommend to my clients-
Sushi, yum yum.
I'm not going to ruin sushi for you.
Bodybuilders and athletes swear by it, for good reason.
There's a reason that it's 'good' for you if you are training hard and 'not too bad' for you if you aren't-
Basically, although the white rice is high-glycemic, you are eating super lean raw fish.
When you increase your blood glucose levels- whatever you eat, good or bad, will stick to you. In this case, you'll be having high-quality, clean protein stick to you.
With that said - there's going to be a significant difference between the sushi (food) quality at a nice Japanese restaurant and your average grocery store that has a "sushi chef" putting together the lowest-quality, least expensive rolls possible. I wouldn't eat the 'regular' grocery store "sushi" unless you were REALLY training hard or you REALLY needed to put on some weight. It's not the worst option in the world though.
Most smart sushi restaurants (in big cities) now offer Brown Rice rolls to satisfy health-conscious girls. Be a girl and get the Brown Rice (see picture above).
This is one that I suggest you start to like.
I didn't at first, but I've acquired the taste and use it as a replacement for pasta and rice because it is lower-glycemic and more nutritious.
Although often confused for a whole-grain, like Oatmeal or Brown Rice, Quinoa is actually a seed.
These little seed or "balls" are PACKED with nutrition.
It has higher levels of all the vitamins and minerals (B-vitamins, iron, potassium, riboflavin, etc.) that are typically in whole-grain foods.
It's nutritional value compares well with whole milk, without the fat.
Some varieties of Quinoa are over 20% protein. MORE IMPORTANTLY -
Quinoa, unlike other carbohydrate-based protein foods, is a COMPLETE PROTEIN that your body can ACTUALLY USE to build muscle.
These funny little "balls" also have anti-viral properties (in the form of unique Quinoa saponins) that can prevent spread of disease.
Organic Quinoa only takes 15 minutes to cook, much quicker than high-quality Brown Rice.
Use a smaller amount of water when cooking. In 15 minutes- not that much water will evaporate and you'll be left with mushy Quinoa.
Which Quinoa to Consider
Unfortunately, Quinoa is generally in short supply at mainstream grocery stores and way overpriced since it's still considered a "specialty food".
Don't get the microwavable garbage.
You might want to try it locally before you purchase a 4-pack on the Internet, look for this brand-
Since most grocery stores are unlikely to have that brand, look for this one -
(the quality is decent and better than most generic brands)
100% Whole Wheat Bread
(Organic, High-Fiber Ezekiel or Similar Brand)
Wheat, because of the gluten concerns, has gotten a lousy name in the past few years.
Understandably so, if you have a gluten intolerance, eating bread can literally cause your brain to become inflamed. That's never a good thing.
The truth of the matter is -
If you don't have issues with gluten, are trying to gain weight and eat high-quality 100% Whole Wheat Bread, it can be beneficial to both your health and fitness pursuits.
100% Whole Wheat Bread has significantly more antioxidants, including: phenolics and lectins that go undigested, bind to cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth.
White bread or "Wheat" bread does nothing even close to that.
Whole Wheat Bread is just bread made with whole wheat flour. As the wheat in the flour still contains the outer layers (the endosperm, bran and germ), the flour is much richer in fiber than white flour and is therefore not as refined as white bread. For this reason, if you are going to include bread in your diet, then you need to choose a 100% Whole Wheat Bread.
You'll want to get the bread that is most high in fiber. Although there is some discussion about "limiting your fiber" in our "How to Gain Weight" discussion, fiber-void bread can be very high glycemic.
Which Whole Wheat Bread to Consider -
Ezekiel 4:9 Organic 100% Whole Wheat (Complete Protein) Bread
Rudi's Organic 100% Whole Wheat Bread
"Double Fiber" Whole Wheat Bread - Assorted Brands
If you can't find the Ezekiel or Rudi's brand and "have" to eat bread, I suggest just picking up one of the "Double Fiber" selections.
They aren't 100% Whole Wheat, so they will be less nutritious and higher-glycemic, but large amount soluble fiber will offer some blood glucose protection.
CarbZero by Julian Bakery
(although not Whole Wheat (it's better) or full of carbohydrates, these two breads are entirely protein and fiber)
- CarbZero Breads (100% Protein & Fiber)
(hardly ever in organic stores)
- Julian Bakery Bread (Up to 14g of protein per slice)
(tastes great when toasted too)
100% Whole Wheat Pasta
(Organic, High-Fiber, High-Protein)
You can expect 100% Whole Wheat Pasta to offer the benefit that 100% Whole Wheat Bread does.
Again, the most important thing is that you get 100% Organic Whole Wheat Pasta and not some other "noodle".
As with the reasonable stereotype question-
"But Asians eat white rice, why aren't they fat?", people wonder why Italians (people native to and live in ITALY, not New York City or the North Side of Chicago) aren't obese monsters like you'll find wandering the streets in the United States.
First off - If we are going to stereotype their stature -
- Italians are a bit on the heavy side.
Second - If we are going to stereotype that they eat pasta all the time -
(you said that too...)
- Italians, relative to the amount of carbohydrates in traditional Italian foods, aren't super fat.
Italian obesity rates actually compare closer to Japan and South Korea than other European countries.
The reason for this is the same as it is in Japan on the white rice issue-
THE FOOD QUALITY IS DRAMATICALLY BETTER.
I've heard that before from nutritionists, from professors, my personal training clients and EVERY SINGLE ONE of my friends that has been Italy.
My buddy Dom (how's that for a you-know-he's-Italian name?) says the pasta available in the United States wouldn't be considered "food" in Italy.
If you are in this country and want to have a sex life, you've got to get ORGANIC 100% WHOLE WHEAT PASTA. Select the kind that has the MOST fiber and protein too.
Don't buy the "rainbow" pasta or the "Kid's Mac & Cheese" for Christ's sake.
Which Whole Wheat Pasta to Consider
I don't eat pasta but this is the one I recommended to those high-society housewives in Beverly Hills-
The entire bionaturae whole wheat line is excellent, you can find it in some higher-end grocery stores.
Beans and Legumes
(Beans, Lentils, Split Peas, etc.)
You've probably seen the word "Legumes" before.
Legumes are basically vegetables that contain a seed pod in them.
Generally speaking- this includes beans, lentils and peas.
As well as these -
Legumes are extremely nutritious and extremely inexpensive too.
Not only are they high in complex carbohydrates and fiber which makes them digest slowly and not encourage fat-storage, but they are also naturally high in protein.
Arguably, they are most 'balanced' clean muscle food.
Dr. J talks about why Beans, particularly RED BEANS, are among the very best carbohydrates around and the "ultimate blood sugar regulator".
Pinto beans are the highest in protein.
Beans, Peas and Lentils are great.
But we are generally talking about washing Organic Dried Beans and slow-cooking them.
Lentils, those "things" pictured to the right, are particularly great.
Learn to love them. Like Quinoa, it might take a little while.
My friend, Luke Guldan, who has graced the cover of Men's Health and Men's Fitness magazine often eats nothing but eggs and lentils.
That's because lentils are EXTREMELY high in protein, far higher than anything in that list above.
A single cup of lentils has 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber (more fiber than most people get in a single day).
Lentils don't have to be presoaked and are ready to eat after 20 to 30 minutes of cooking. While beans generally take about 40+ minutes.
You may be surprised to hear me say that canned beans are "good".
We are talking about Organic Canned Beans though.
The actual quality/nutritional value of Organic Canned Beans is not much different than if you were to cook them. You could do a lot worse.
One of the problems with "regular canned beans" is that they are submerged in preservatives to last them nearly a decade. Furthermore, they are usually sitting in a great deal of sugary syrup (see baked beans).
The biggest potential concern, however, is something called "BPA".
As discovery news reports -
The chemical, also known as bisphenol A, has been linked to all sorts of health concerns, including heart disease, cancers, and developmental problems. One new study linked higher levels of BPA exposure with lower levels of sperm in men.
Not good stuff.
It's the same stuff that makes plastic bottle a significant concern, as detailed by Denise Grady of the New York Times.
So, I'm going to have to let you decide for yourself.
The beans are good.
The cans are not.
If you aren't eating several cans a week, I'm sure you'll be okay. If you aren't- you'll probably want to start cooking a big batch of organic dried beans on Sunday night, to last you through the week.
You can also look for "BPA-free" cans, this specific brand is great-
Greek Yogurt (Non-Fat or 2%)
The final addition to our A-List of Staple Carbohydrates that makes our list is NON-FAT Greek Yogurt.
Regular Greek Yogurt is just about the worst thing you can eat, it's nutritional profile is close to cheesecake than to yogurt.
Regular yogurt is packed with cheap sugar and has virtually no protein.
Non-fat Greek Yogurt is excellent though, it is packed with protein as well as the probiotics that all yogurt has. If you are training really hard or really need to gain weight- go with 2% Greek Yogurt.
In general, since there's no "organic" Greek Yogurt- you'll want to buy the Greek Yogurt with the FEWEST INGREDIENTS in it.
Interestingly enough, if you are lactose intolerant- you can still enjoy Greek Yogurt, it has enzymes (particularly Lactase) that breaks the lactose down.
Here is an on-going list of other suggestions; these aren't bad, but not good enough to make our exclusive A-List.
Yams (Sweet Potatoes)
Yams (Sweet Potatoes) aren't bad, we happen to feel that they're a bit overrated however.
It is thought, on a glycemic level, that sweet potatoes are a much better form of potato, especially better than white potatoes. In reality, they are about the same with a high-moderate glycemic load of 20-30.
In fact, a sweet potato isn't even a potato.
It's a completely different vegetable from a completely separate botanical family.
Thank you for reading!
Check out our other food lists!