Carbohydrate Coma: Carbs to Avoid, and Their Alternatives
I ate 15 bananas per day. Count them: 15. Towards the end of summer 2009, I had become (possibly because of my gluten sensitivity) intolerant not only to gluten-containing foods, but also any kind of potato, red meat, and poultry. This intolerance manifested itself mostly in the form of extreme fatigue, with my life revolving around dragging myself out of bed for class (if I was lucky), coming home, sleeping, getting up for two hours for the gym, and doing it all over again. At this point, I realized that this simply was not going to work long-term.
Having successfully used the process of elimination to refine my diet previously (I had cut out gluten in fall 2007, and rice and other grains in fall 2008 after other symptoms began), I decided to stop eating all foods that I felt caused me the extreme fatigue. So, let’s take a status report. By this point, the foods eliminated from my diet consisted of: turkey, chicken, beef, rice, oats, corn, potatoes, wheat/gluten products, dairy, peanuts, and beans (don’t ask).
Almost every important bodybuilder food was out. As a physique athlete, carbohydrates were essential to my growth, and I was desperate to find something that worked for me. After looking into different fruits and their glycemic loads, it appeared that bananas and blueberries were two of the best choices for a bodybuilder unable to eat other carb sources.
As a result, I began eating 2-3 bananas per meal, 6-7 times per day. Eventually, I got used to this routine; looking back on it, though, it’s hard to believe I kept it up for as long as I did. Granted, I practiced my own philosophies of staying sane and going out for a meal every once in a while, eating steak and potatoes, and dealing with the effects afterwards. For the most part, though, I ate bananas day in and day out (especially after I developed a lot of stomach issues with blueberries after eating them as a welcome substitute to bananas quite often).
Clearly, this was not quite the way to go about substituting carbs, as I have since found far better alternatives (and have even been able to work sweet potatoes and various other carb sources back into my diet in strict moderation). In this issue of Hypoallergenic, I am going to specifically focus on carbohydrates to avoid, carbohydrates to be careful with, and carbohydrate sources that work as great gluten-free/grain-free substitutes to traditional bodybuilder carb sources. Even if you are not gluten or grain intolerant, consider these finds as an alternative in taste and consistency to a necessarily carb-filled lifestyle.
The simplest list to compile first is the “to avoid” list, which I have outlined in previous articles. These include: wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and oats (unless labeled otherwise). Some products that contain these ingredients and alternatives for gluten-free bodybuilders:
|Gluten-Free Food Choices|
|Gluten-Containing Food||Gluten-Free Alternative||Example Brand|
|Bread:||Rice Crackers||Asian Gourmet|
|Bread made from rice, corn, millet, and tapioca. Careful with these GF bread products, though. They are often very high fat.||Ener-G Foods|
|Shirataki noodles (calorie free noodles made from vegetable fiber).||MiracleNoodle.com|
|Many different types of pasta are made with rice, corn, and other gluten-free grains.||Glutino|
|Oats and other hot cereals:||Buckwheat||Bob's Red Mill|
|Quinoa||Bob's Red Mill|
|Cold cereals:||Buckwheat flakes||Arrowhead Mills|
|Puffed flax (made from sorghum flour and flax seed).||Enjoy Life|
|Flour:||Almond meal/flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Coconut flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Gluten-free oat flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Sorghum flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Gluten-free all purpose flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Millet flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Rice flour||Bob's Red Mill|
|Corn meal/flour||Bob's Red Mill|
This is by no means a complete list of all gluten-containing foods and gluten-free alternatives, but these are the foods that I eat, have eaten, and have experience with.
As previously mentioned, another group of foods that I try to avoid are grains in general. This includes all grains containing gluten, plus rice and corn. Rice causes me digestive issues, fatigue, and sometimes a scratchy/sore throat to the point that it feels like I have strep. Corn causes me similar symptoms, plus a sensation of swelling in my throat and stabbing stomach pain.
Because of this, many of the gluten-free alternatives I’ve listed, including gluten-free breads and pastas, are forbidden territory for me. As a quick summary of viable grain-free alternatives: rice, oats, and corn can be substituted with buckwheat and quinoa, two of the most important carbohydrate sources to a gluten-free/grain-free bodybuilder.
Given my sensitivity to so many carb sources, including potatoes, I have used different methods to try to offset some sensitivity symptoms while still being able to eat desirable foods. One preparation method I’ve found to be effective for sweet potatoes is to simply eat them with the skin. I assume it is the fiber content of the skin that further slows my body’s uptake of the carbs in the potato, thus reducing my insulin response and subsequent fatigue.
Another solution I’ve found (though this is not sustainable long term, probably not healthy, and certainly not recommended) is caffeine supplementation surrounding a carb meal. Taking 200mg of caffeine with a sweet potato will offset my fatigue after the meal, especially if it is pre-workout. However, this puts me at risk of crashing in the middle of my workout, and constant caffeine supplementation (assuming it is taken with all 5-6 carb meals during the day) is not healthy. In general, I stick to the carb sources that give me the fewest issues.
To summarize, my gluten-free, mostly grain-free carb sources consist of: buckwheat, quinoa (though I don’t eat it much simply because I’m used to buckwheat), and fruits. As far as fruits go, I generally stick to bananas, also eating strawberries from time to time. For a gluten-free bodybuilder without as many intolerances as I have, I would also add blueberries and apples. The common trait among bananas, strawberries, apples, and blueberries is their high-fiber content, which makes them ideal for a bodybuilder’s morning or pre-workout meal (or any other time throughout the day), as the fiber helps to avoid a blood sugar spike/crash.
Many other berries work for this purpose, as well. An important factor to remember when eating gluten-free is that it is important to always make sure you are consuming enough fiber (vegetables, good fruits, buckwheat), and not consuming too many high-fat, unhealthy gluten-free products (bread substitutes). As always, read the label.
Another important carb-related topic that I feel I have to cover is baking. Put simply, as a bodybuilder, I try to use mashed banana instead of oil, and instead of wheat flour, I use coconut flour, gluten-free all purpose flour, almond flour, potato flour, buckwheat flour, or a mixture thereof. One point to remember is that in general, gluten-free baked goods need to be cooked more slowly than their wheat-containing counterparts.
And there you have it—a gluten-free (and sometimes grain-free) approach to bodybuilding carbs that will allow you to pack on the mass and go hard in the gym without the fatigue and discomfort of gluten and grain intolerance.
And now, to detail one of my favorite carb sources:
Buckwheat - My Treasured Alternative to Rice and Oats
Much of my struggle, before discovering all of the carb-related possibilities of my diet, related to not being able to carb up on two of a bodybuilder’s best friends: rice and oats. Imagine a diet absent of these two grains. Morning meals are not as enjoyable without oats, and the “chicken and rice” stereotype is out the window. That is, until I discovered a food I have come to value more than money: buckwheat. The last couple of articles have seen me mention it, but I would like to go into further detail on this grain-like seed (technically a fruit) that has made eating as a bodybuilder much easier for me.
Around the time that I started my most recent cutting diet, I had decided that bananas were not going to “cut” it, so to speak, and began to look harder than ever for legitimate alternatives to grain. Somewhere along the way, I discovered buckwheat, and haven’t looked back.
I have eaten it in three forms: flour, groats and “creamy buckwheat,” which is cut up buckwheat but not to the point of being a powder/flour. The two I eat on a regular basis are groats and creamy buckwheat. The groats, which are seeds, though they look like grains, are cooked similarly to rice and can make for a carb-rich, nutritious substitute when eating grain-free. Some nutrition facts to compare:
- 1 Cup Cooked Brown Rice: 45g Carbs (4g Fiber), 5g Protein, 2g Fat
- 1 Cup Cooked Buckwheat Groats: 33g Carbs (5g Fiber), 6g Protein, 1g Fat
So, with somewhat fewer carbs, a little more fiber, more protein, and less fat, buckwheat is a valid option for those looking to substitute rice either long-term, or simply as a nice break every once in a while.
The second form of buckwheat, creamy buckwheat (Bob’s Red Mill), is my personal favorite, and I’ve pretty much moved to getting all of my buckwheat in this form. A half cup of creamy buckwheat with a cup and a half of water cooks into a delicious hot cereal that I eat for 5-6 of my 6-8 meals per day. The taste and nutritional profile are very similar to, if not better than, oats. To compare:
- ½ Cup uncooked oats (according to www.quakeroats.com): 54g Carbs (8g Fiber), 10g Protein, 5g Fat
- ½ Cup uncooked creamy buckwheat (according to www.bobsredmill.com): 60g Carbs (6g Fiber), 10g Protein, 2g Fat
Given its high whole-grain carbohydrate content, as well as protein that contains all 8 essential amino acids, buckwheat is a fantastic carb choice (I find myself surprised that I don’t see it in more bodybuilders’ diets, food intolerances notwithstanding). As far as preparation, once I’ve cooked up the ½ cup buckwheat with 1.5 cups of water in the microwave for 2:30, I mix in a mashed up banana and some Walden Farms Calorie-Free Pancake Syrup, and end up with a great 80-85g carb banana-maple porridge that I crave when not eating it, and practically inhale when I am. I’ve also added blackberries instead of banana, which was a delicious variation.
This article has provided methods of eating anabolic, healthy carbohydrate sources while maintaining a gluten-free, potentially grain-free diet. I welcome any reader input regarding carbohydrates, gluten- and grain-free eating, carb nutrient timing, and any general input or questions.
To contact Alex: facebook.com/arsilva
NOTE: The content provided in this article is for recreational purposes only and the information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. I am not a professional on this subject, and the information provided herein is strictly based on anecdotal evidence and should not be used in the place of professional guidance. If you think you may have Celiac Disease or sensitivity to gluten, seek the advice of a medical professional.