What Is The Glycemic Index? By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com
As a bodybuilder you already know that carbohydrates are an important part of our diet, and that all carbs are not created equal-some are good while others are not-so-good or even bad. The rate at which carbs release their energy determines where they fall on the spectrum. The carbs that release their energy slowly are the good ones, while the ones that release their energy quickly are the ones to avoid. There are three types of
carbs: complex, simple and refined. Complex carbs are the slowest energy-releasers, with refined carbs releasing it the fastest. Knowing which is which used to be tough until the Glycemic Index was developed.
The Glycemic Index (GI) classifies carbs based on the rate at which they release energy. Carbs that that fall low on the GI scale release their energy slowly while those that are high on the GI scale release their energy quickly. This is important to know and here's why: Carbs that release their energy quickly produce a rise in blood sugar levels followed by a rapid fall, leading to a "crash," which makes us feel lethargic. On the contrary, carbs that release their energy slowly help keep blood sugar levels on an even keel, which allows us to maintain our energy levels throughout the day.
Exactly where a particular food falls on the GI is determined by how much it raises blood sugar levels over a two to three hour period. The GI uses a scale of 0-100. Most people who use the GI classify any food that ranks at
55 or below as having a low Glycemic Index, meaning that it raises blood sugar levels considerably less than foods that fall higher on the scale.
Foods with a medium GI are those that have a rank of 70 or below with anything above being classified as having a high Glycemic Index.
Refined carbs release their energy very quickly and therefore, have a high Glycemic Index. These are the ones you find in processed foods.
Refined carbs have been processed by machines that strip the bran and the germ from the whole grain. They fall high on the GI because they release their energy quickly. Refined carbs have been largely stripped of the nutrients, meaning that they're basically empty calories that have little nutritional value, send glucose levels skyrocketing and leave you feeling hungry a short while after you eat them. White bread and white rice are some foods that are made up of refined carbs.
Simple carbs are mostly sugar and also release their energy quickly. You'll find them in sodas, candy, chocolate, fudge and other foods that have lots of added sugar. While you want to mostly avoid simple carbs because the majority of them have a high Glycemic Index, they're not entirely bad because most fruits-which can be very good for you to eat now and then-are made up almost entirely of simple carbs.
There are plenty of fruits made up of simple carbs that don't rank high on the GI. Fresh strawberries for example, rank 40 on the GI, well below the threshold of 55. Some other fruits that score low on the GI include apples, pears, oranges and cherries, among others. So even though they're simple carbs, feel free to occasionally add a handful of these nutritious fresh fruits to your protein shake.
Complex carbs-like the ones you find in broccoli, beans and whole grains-generally score the lowest on the GI. These are the nutrient-rich, slow burning carbs. They don't cause glucose levels to spike and since they release their energy slowly, they help keep the body feeling "full" and satisfied longer than fast-releasing carbs. This is important not only for sustaining energy levels throughout the day but is essential for maintaining proper weight.
It's important to note that while the Glycemic Index can be a useful tool, it should serve as a general guideline, not as a hard and fast rule. If your goal is to lose weight, then you should definitely stick with almost entirely with foods that have a low GI. As a bodybuilder though, there are times when you will certainly want to mix in some foods with a higher GI-particularly after an intense training session when your body needs a quick burst of energy. In any case, the Glycemic Index really is a handy, worthwhile and easy-to-use planning tool, especially since there are lots of interactive websites that allow you to enter the name of a food to quickly find out its Glycemic Index.