Breaking Down the Glycemic Index for Bodybuilding

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A calorie is just a calorie? A carb is simply just a carb right?

In the modern day era focused on flexible dieting rather than strict food choices, many people  tend to simply look at the caloric values and numbers. With this in mind, why is it that until recently, bodybuilders tended to stick to certain clean food choices rather than random eating?

Related: Flexible Dieting: The Overhyped Battle Between Clean vs. Dirty Foods

Take for example carbohydrates. Carbs are the most common type of macronutrient available on the market. They can come in the form of everything from a Twinkie to a cup of brown rice. Aside from the preservatives and other additional additives in processed foods, there are additional factors causing foods to differ in terms of digestibility.

Take for example the glycemic index. The glycemic Index as it relates to food is essentially a measurement of how fast or slow blood sugar rises after the carbohydrate source is ingested. After consuming any type of carb it is then turned to glucose and is used by the body to manufacture ATP which in turn becomes a fuel source for the entire body.

Carbohydrates are the main source of macronutrient that are converted to glucose. Although if you go into strict ketosis your body will use fats as a fuel source through a process called gluconeogenesis. To measure the body’s glycemic index it is assigned a value from 0-100. A higher value means a faster blood sugar response.

Glycemic Index

Moderate glycemic index foods are better for purposes of fat loss because a higher glycemic index food means insulin levels will rise much faster. Fat loss cannot occur when insulin levels are extremely elevated. On the other hand a slow releasing carbohydrate will produce less insulin and maximize fat loss.

  • Low GI Foods – In regards to the glycemic index scale, a food under 55 is considered to be low glycemic index.
  • Medium GI Foods – Foods that have a GI under 70 and over 56 are considered to be medium glycemic foods.
  • High GI Foods – Foods that have a GI over 70 are considered to be high glycemic foods.

The glycemic index of foods cannot be taken into account solely on their own as eating protein and fat sources alongside carbohydrates will affect the overall glycemic level of the carbohydrate source.

The International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values show the following glycemic index for several commonplace foods.

Food Glycemic Index (Glucose = 100) Serving Size (Grams) Glycemic Load Per Serving
Bakery Products and Breads
Banana cake, made with sugar  47  60  14
Banana cake, made without sugar  55  60  12
Sponge cake, plain  46  63  17
Vanilla cake made from packet mix with vanilla frosting (Betty Crocker)  42  111  24
Apple, made with sugar  44  60  13
Apple, made without sugar  48  60  9
Waffles, Aunt Jemima® (Quaker Oats)  76  35  10
Bagel, white, frozen  72  70  25
Baguette, white, plain  95  30  15
Coarse barley bread, 75-80% kernels, average  34  30  7
Hamburger bun  61  30  9
Kaiser roll  73  30  12
Pumpernickel bread  56  30  7
50% cracked wheat kernel bread  58  30  12
White wheat flour bread  71  30  10
Wonder® bread, average  73  30  10
Whole wheat bread, average  71  30  9
100% Whole Grain® bread (Natural Ovens)  51  30  7
Pita bread, white  68  30  10
Corn tortilla  52  50  12
Wheat tortilla  30  50  8
Beverages
Coca Cola®, average  63  250ml  16
Fanta®, orange soft drink  68  250ml  23
Lucozade®, original (sparkling glucose drink)  95 ±10  250ml  40
Apple juice, unsweetened, average  44  250ml  30
Cranberry juice cocktail (Ocean Spray®)  68  250ml  24
Gatorade  78  250ml  12
Orange juice, unsweetened  50  250ml  12
Tomato juice, canned  38  250ml  4
Breakfast Cereals and Related Products
All-Bran®, average  55  30  12
Coco Pops®, average  77  30  20
Cornflakes®, average  93  30  23
Cream of Wheat® (Nabisco)  66  250  17
Cream of Wheat®, Instant (Nabisco)  74  250  22
Grapenuts, average  75  30  16
Muesli, average  66  30  16
Oatmeal, average  55  250  13
Instant oatmeal, average  83  250  30
Puffed wheat, average  80  30  17
Raisin Bran® (Kellogg’s)  61  30  12
Special K® (Kellogg’s)  69  30  14
Grains
Pearled barley, average  28  150  12
Sweet corn on the cob, average  60  150  20
Couscous, average  65  150  9
Quinoa  53  150  13
White rice, average  89  150  43
Quick cooking white basmati  67  150  28
Brown rice, average  50  150  16
Converted, white rice (Uncle Ben’s®)  38  150  14
Whole wheat kernels, average  30  50  11
Bulgur, average  48  150  12
Cookies and Crackers
Graham crackers  74  25  14
Vanilla wafers  77  25  14
Shortbread  64  25  10
Rice cakes, average  82  25  17
Rye crisps, average  64  25  11
Soda crackers  74  25  12
Dairy Products and Alternatives
Ice cream, regular  57  50  6
Ice cream, premium  38  50  3
Milk, full fat  41  250ml  5
Milk, skim  32  250ml  4
Reduced-fat yogurt with fruit, average  33  200  11
Fruits
Apple, average  39  120  6
Banana, ripe  62 120  16
Dates, dried  42  60  18
Grapefruit  25  120  3
Grapes, average  59  120  11
Orange, average  40  120  4
Peach, average  42  120  5
Peach, canned in light syrup  40  120  5
Pear, average  38  120  4
Pear, canned in pear juice  43  120  5
Prunes, pitted  29  60  10
Raisins  64  60  28
Watermelon  72  120  4
Beans and Nuts
Baked beans, average  40  150  6
Blackeye peas, average  33  150  10
Black beans  30  150  7
Chickpeas, average  10  150  3
Chickpeas, canned in brine  38  150  9
Navy beans, average  31  150  9
Kidney beans, average  29  150  7
Lentils, average  29  150  5
Soy beans, average  15  150  1
Cashews, salted  27  50  3
Peanuts, average  7  50  0
Pasta and Noodles
Fettucini, average  32  180  15
Macaroni, average  47  180  23
Macaroni and Cheese (Kraft)  64  180  32
Spaghetti, white, boiled, average  46  180  22
Spaghetti, white, boiled 20 min, average  58  180  26
Spaghetti, wholemeal, boiled, average  42  180  17
Snack Foods
Corn chips, plain, salted, average  42  50  11
Fruit Roll-Ups®  99  30  24
M & M’s®, peanut  33  30  6
Microwave popcorn, plain, average  55  20  6
Potato chips, average  51  50  12
Pretzels, oven-baked  83  30  16
Snickers Bar®  51  60  18
Vegetables
Green peas, average  51  80  4
Carrots, average  35  80  2
Parsnips  52 80  4
Baked russet potato, average  111 150  33
Boiled white potato, average  82  150  21
Instant mashed potato, average  87  150  17
Sweet potato, average  70  150  22
Yam, average  54  150  20
Miscellaneous
Hummus (chickpea salad dip)  6  30  0
Chicken nuggets, frozen, reheated in microwave oven 5 min  46  100  7
Pizza, plain baked dough, served with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce  80  100  22
Pizza, Super Supreme (Pizza Hut)  36  100  9
Honey, average  61  25  12

Complex vs. Simple Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are made up of hundreds of units and provide much more sustained energy as they take more time to be broken down by the body. Some common examples of complex carbohydrates include starchy substances such as oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.

Fibrous complex carbohydrates are mostly of the vegetable variety including such common vegetables as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, peppers, and tomatoes.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of far fewer molecules and provide immediate sources of energy such as fruits and other sugary foods.

When to eat carbs

Prior to beginning your workout it is recommended to have low to medium GI carbohydrates roughly one hour before your workout. If you choose to consume higher GI carbohydrates those may be consumed thirty minutes or less before to provide an immediate source of energy.

Post-workout, focus on faster absorbing carbohydrate sources to provide the appropriate anabolic response for achieving optimal results. Although subject matter experts may differ today in their opinions on the necessity of post-workout protein and carb sources, it is usually better to air on the side of caution because as we all know it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Although flexible dieting and use of the “If it Fits Your Macros” (IIFYM) approach has helped to revolutionize dieting making it easier to use for the vast majority of individuals, it is important to consider other extraneous factors beyond simply carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Eating whole foods will aid the body in providing the appropriate metabolic and anabolic response for achieving results and building muscle effectively.

Be sure to follow me on Instagram @ryanrodal and subscribe to my YouTube channel MuscleMinds for more great nutritional advice and workout tips!

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Name: Ryan Rodal

Bio: My short term fitness goals include reaching a 300lb bench, 405 lb squat and a 500 lb deadlift. Longterm I want to become more involved in the fitness industry and help others achieve their goals. The bodybuilding lifestyle is not about how much you can lift or even how you look, its simply about being the best version of yourself.