Many of you buy this magazine each month because you want to get stronger or bigger, to lose weight, improve sports performance or simply be a little healthier. However, some of you want something different – to look good with your shirt off. Summer is on its way, so now is the time to start working towards getting a better-looking body so you can ditch the top with pride during those brief outbreaks of blue sky.
But training hard isn’t enough by itself to guarantee you a body that even Michelangelo would marvel at. No, you also need to pay close attention to your diet, especially when it comes to carbohydrates. Here are the rules you need to stick to if you want a summer six-pack.
Not eating wheat or any wheat-derived products is the single most important principle regarding carb intake. Wheat influences blood sugar levels the same way plain table sugar does. Also, the gliadin family of grains, which includes oats, wheat and spelt, is one of the most common food allergens. When you eat an allergen, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol in response, which has the nasty side effect of forcing your body to store more of the energy you consume as fat.
Fibre is your friend
Your main source of carbs should be fibrous vegetables, which typically are very low in carbs. Their high fibre content also blunts your insulin response so you don’t get a big blood sugar spike, making them an ideal fat-loss food. And unlike wheat, veg also has an array of other health benefits (see the box on the right).
Limit fructose intake
Fruits are loaded with nutrients but also contain fructose. This is a type of sugar that can damage your cells if you eat too much. Unlike other sugars, fructose doesn’t raise insulin, so the energy can’t be driven into your cells to be stored – instead it lingers around and wreaks metabolic havoc. In fact, one UK study found that the level of a fructose by-product in the blood was a more accurate test of mortality than cholesterol, blood pressure or body mass index. Limit yourself to no more than 10g of fructose per day (about one apple’s worth), or up to 20g if you are very active.
Stick to dark fruits
The darker the fruit, the better it is for you. Dark fruits tend to have very thin skins, so they need to produce more antioxidants to protect themselves from the sun. That’s why darker fruits are great anti-inflammatories. Bananas have thick skins so therefore have lower antioxidant content.
Time your carbs
The best time to load up on carbs is in the first ten minutes after a workout. Insulin sensitivity is at its highest after the workout, so this is the time to maximise muscle mass gains. The best carbs to take on board? I like fruit juices with a high glycaemic index, such as pineapple or grape, to provide 30-40% of the carbs, with the rest coming in powder form, ranging from dextrose to various types of maltodextrin. Include 15g of protein for every 22kg of bodyweight to increase glycogen storage by as much as 40%.
Pop a pill
Taking an insulin sensitivity supplement with a high-carb post-workout meal will allow more energy to go straight to work in your muscle cells, instead of being stored in fat cells. Supplements that include taurine, arginine, magnesium and alpha-lipoic acid will do the job.
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Veg out to carb up
Not all carbs are bad. Here are four of the best sources and their additional benefits:
4.4g per 100g
These are full of potassium, which will help your metabolism to use energy for muscle growth.
3.1g per 100g
Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamin C, which will help protect against cardiovascular disease.
3.5g per 100g
The dark green leaves are rich in bone-strengthening vitamin K and immunity-boosting vitamin A.
2g per 100g
One serving of spears will give you more than two-thirds of your recommended daily intake of vitamin K.