Lately, carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation of being one reason for the obesity crisis in the United States. Carbohydrates, however, are an essential part of a balanced diet. They’re your body’s preferred energy source, and are vital for peak performance.
The important thing to remember about carbohydrates is that some of them can be broken down faster and easier than others. Fast-digesting carbs like refined sugar are called simple carbs. Your body can use these types of carbs almost immediately. The problem, though, is that eating these carbs can spike your blood sugar quickly, and they aren’t a sustainable form of energy. And because these carbs are so readily usable, they also get stored as fat easily.
Complex carbs like oatmeal, however, take a little longer to digest, don’t spike your blood sugar as dramatically, and often contain more fiber than their simple counterparts.
The following are examples of complex carbs. If you stick to complex carbs like these instead of eating mostly refined carbs like doughnuts or cake, your energy levels will stay more consistent throughout the day.
If you enjoy sugary carbs and don’t want to remove them entirely from your diet, try eating them (in moderation) right after a workout!
Many fitness plans, especially those designed for performance or building muscle, include roughly 50 grams of carbohydrates per meal. Not sure what that looks like? Check out these photos and macronutrient breakdowns so you can learn how to eyeball 50 grams of carbohydrates!
Per 2 medium baked potatoes: 200 calories, 46 g carbs, 0.3 g fat, 4.5 g protein
Sweet potatoes are great because they offer long-lasting energy without much fat. Sweet potatoes also contain calcium, potassium, thiamin, and niacin. They’re also one of the very best sources of vitamin A.
Per 1-1/2 medium baked potato: 241 calories, 54.9 g carbs, 0.3 g fat, 6.5 g protein
If you don’t really like sweet potatoes, eat regular ones! Potatoes have a few more calories, carbs, protein, and fat than sweet potatoes, and they digest a little faster, but the differences are pretty negligible. Both are great carb sources.
Per 1-3/4 cup: 291 calories, 49.1 g carbs, 6.2 g fat, 10.4 g protein
Oats have been a fixture in human nutrition for a long time. This hardy, low-cholesterol food offers a huge dose of fiber along with some iron, calcium, riboflavin, and folate.
Per 2 slices: 200 calories, 44 g carbs, 0 g fat, 6 g protein
Sliced bread is about as common as it gets. Budget-wise dieters know that it’s also a pretty cheap and convenient carbohydrate source. Before you buy a loaf, though, make sure you read the label—whole-grain is not the same as whole-wheat.
Per 1-1/4 cup cooked: 278 calories, 49.3 g carbs, 4.4 g fat, 10.2 g protein
Although we have it listed as a carbohydrate source, quinoa is also a complete protein and can be used as a vegetarian protein source. Because it has more protein than other carb sources, it can be more calorie-dense, so if you’re paying attention to calories, make sure you measure how much you eat!
Long-Grain Brown Rice
Per 1 cup cooked: 216 calories, 44.8 g carbs, 1.8 g fat, 5 g protein
Brown rice has a pretty good reputation in the bodybuilding community because it’s very low in fat, cholesterol, and salt. It’s easy to measure, has fiber, and includes many necessary micronutrients like selenium and manganese. Pair it with some legumes and you have yourself a complete protein!