Bodybuilding is a sport that requires extreme discipline in both the gym and the kitchen. Although refined carbohydrates are not typically recommended as part of a healthy diet, there may be an exception when it comes to rice cakes and bodybuilding.
During training, bodybuilders need a quick source of energy, which rice cakes can provide. Bodybuilders can also eat rice cakes post-workout to replenish muscle glycogen and get their bodies ready for the next training session. Keep in mind, though, that while rice cakes provide a burst of energy in the form of rapidly digesting carbohydrates, they don't offer much else in terms of nutrition.
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A Bodybuilding Diet
Bodybuilding is mostly about appearance, rather than physical performance or health. While it takes dedication and a commitment to exercise and diet to get the physique associated with bodybuilding, the emphasis isn't always on optimizing nutrition in terms of vitamins and minerals as much as it is on looking lean and building muscle.
Because of this, bodybuilders focus mainly on macronutrient percentages, even if those macronutrients come from rice cakes and other high-glycemic carbohydrates (which are typically not recommended on other types of diets).
There are two different phases of bodybuilding: off-season, or "bulking," and the pre-contest phase, which is about leaning out and losing any excess weight. According to an older report published in Sports Medicine in April 2004, the macronutrient breakdown during each phase is the same. Approximately 55 to 60 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, while protein provides 25 to 30 percent of calories and the remaining 15 to 20 percent comes from fat.
The major difference in the diets for the different phases is in the calorie count. During the off-season, or bulking phase, the diet is hyperenergetic, meaning that it provides more energy, or about 15 percent more calories than you need. During the pre-contest phase, when the goal is to slim down and get rid of any excess body fat, the diet is hypoenergetic, which means that it provides 15 percent fewer calories than you need to sustain your body weight.
Read more: 20 Best Muscle Building Foods
Carbohydrates and Bodybuilding
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose and then does two things with that glucose. It uses what it needs immediately for energy and then converts the rest to a storage form called glycogen. That glycogen is stored in your liver or your skeletal muscles, which you use during exercise.
When you do any type of exercise, but especially during high-intensity exercise, your body breaks down glycogen and turns it into a compound called adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, which is used for energy and muscle contraction, according to an April 2018 report in Nutrition Reviews.
If you don't have enough glycogen stored in your muscles, it can lead to reduced endurance (which translates to shorter, less intense workouts) and reduced muscle contraction. High-intensity strength-training workouts are the foundation of a bodybuilding regimen.
Sometimes bodybuilders even hit the gym twice a day to optimize muscle gain and fat loss and get ready for a competition. If there isn't enough glycogen in the muscles, getting through these necessary workouts would be nearly impossible.
That's why carbohydrates make up the bulk of both phases of a bodybuilding diet. In addition to making sure glycogen stores are full, they prevent the breakdown of protein (which is used to build muscle), provide immediate energy, replace the glycogen that's lost during exercise and increase protein synthesis (or the creation of new proteins that are used to build muscle).
Types of Carbohydrates
There are two major groups of carbohydrates: low-glycemic and high-glycemic. Low-glycemic carbohydrates are rich in fiber and pass through the digestive system slowly. This results in a slow, sustained release of glucose that provides steady energy. High-glycemic carbohydrates are those that are low in fiber and pass through the digestive system quickly.
High-glycemic carbohydrates cause a more rapid and significant increase in glucose and often provide extra carbohydrates that are converted to glycogen and stored in the muscle and the liver.
While the typical nutrition advice is to avoid high-glycemic carbohydrates as much as possible, it's the opposite for bodybuilders. According to a January 2018 report in Nutrition Today, high-glycemic, high-carbohydrate foods are best for giving the body the energy it needs to maintain performance during high-intensity exercise, like the intense resistance training that bodybuilders need to do in order to build and maintain their physiques.
The same report also notes that choosing post-workout high-glycemic carbohydrates, like rice cakes, may also be beneficial for replacing any muscle glycogen that was lost during the workout and for getting the body ready for the next strength training session, which sometimes happens on the same day.
The amount of glycogen that your body uses depends on several factors, including exercise intensity, exercise duration and training status (or how in shape you are), according to a March 2018 report in Nutrients.
Benefits of Rice Cakes
However, the report in Nutrition Today notes that consuming 0.5 to 0.6 grams of rapidly digesting carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight every 30 minutes for two to four hours after exercise can help increase the rate of glycogen synthesis and make sure the muscles are full.
That means that a bodybuilder who weighs 200 pounds may benefit from consuming 45 grams to 54 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes for up to four hours, or until the next full meal. That's where you can reap the benefits of rice cakes.
These increased carbohydrate needs can be difficult to meet, so bodybuilders often need to choose high-carbohydrate foods that don't have much protein or fat to slow down the digestion of those carbohydrates. A single rice cake provides around 7.5 carbohydrates and only 0.75 grams of protein and 0.25 grams of fat. Rice cakes are also low in calories, with only 35 calories per cake.
Eating six or seven rice cakes every 30 minutes could help a bodybuilder meet those post workout needs without providing an excessive amount of calories. Since the rice cakes contain only 0.4 grams of fiber per cake, they're also rapidly digested and absorbed, so they can provide a good source of pre-workout energy too.
- Sports Medicine: "Macronutrient Considerations for the Sport of Bodybuilding"
- USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: "Snacks, Rice Cakes, Brown Rice, Plain, Unsalted"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Fundamentals of Glycogen Metabolism for Coaches and Athletes"
- Journal of Physiology: "Muscle Glycogen: Where Did You Come From, Where Did You Go?"
- Nutrition Today: "High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance"
- Nutrients: "Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Metabolism During Exercise: Implications for Endurance Performance and Training Adaptations"