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Carbohydrates: the boon of those looking to gain weight! Will you believe me if I tell you that there’s a lot more to carbohydrates than just toast and butter? You should. In this post, let me take you through what exactly carbohydrates are, the different types of carbs, how you can use them for your weight management, and which are the best healthy carbs for weight gain.
I am pretty certain that inevitably, all of us have at least glimpsed at the food pyramid during our time in school or when extensively researching how best to gain or lose weight. You would remember carbohydrates as the bulk of it all forming the very bottom layer, the main component of the ideal, balanced diet.
It is not without reason that the foundation of the pyramid is made of carbs, and getting to know carbohydrates in depth can be quite a productive journey, no matter what you’re looking for.
But before we get into how carbs can help you gain weight, let’s understand what carbs are first.
What are Carbohydrates?
Present across a variety of food sources, irrespective of whether necessarily healthy or not, you will be finding a good amount of this food component in bread, rice, potatoes, pasta- yes, you get it- comfort foods.
Carbohydrates are a part of your daily nutrition requirement that form a bulk of your diet, they are a type of ‘macronutrients’. A healthy and well-balanced diet is sufficiently rich in carbs. They are naturally occurring elements and are present as sugars, fiber, or starch in food. The other macronutrients include proteins and fats.
Carbohydrates are made up of different types of sugar molecules bound together. And when I say sugar, I don’t mean the white crystal sugar you’re dunking into your coffee right now, though you’re kind of right- those are carbohydrates as well.
When you consume carbohydrates, your body breaks down the sugar or starch or fiber and converts them into their simplest form: into glucose.
Glucose is what most of us plainly refer to as blood sugar (rather literal I suppose) and it is the primary source of energy for your body. Unlike starch and sugar, the carbohydrates in the form of dietary fibre do not get broken down. They pass through your digestive system as they are. Let us take a look into the three variants of carbohydrates before exploring why they are so important for us.
Yes, the plain white table sugar that we consume ever so happy with our tea, coffee, and whatnot. Biscuits, chocolates, preserves, soda, etc are loaded with sugars.
The thing about sugar is that it’s very easy to break down for the body and hence releases energy immediately. This is why when someone has a low blood sugar level, they are immediately prescribed either glucose via intravenous methods or to consume it directly in a very soluble form.
Starch is a rather slow energy provider that sits back and steadily releases energy. It takes much longer to break down when compared to pure sugar. Starch can be found in your vegetables and fruits, and your daily diet is very likely to contain them: rice, wheat, potatoes, etc.
Discovered in the walls of the plant cells, fiber is very difficult to digest for the body- hence all the more beneficial. I shall come back to the goodness of fibers in a bit.
Let us get into understanding the importance of carbohydrates first.
Why are Carbohydrates Important?
Ask me why they aren’t important and I would probably be unable to answer it. So instead, I will stick to something that I can answer. Why exactly are carbs important?
1. Your “body” needs it.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy and are very essential for your body’s normal functioning in more than one aspect. The consumption of carbohydrates is very important for those looking to remain healthy and obtain optimal weight gain.
Every organ system in your body, be it the cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels), the central nervous system (brain and nerves), your musculoskeletal system (you know this one), or your kidneys- they all utilize the energy obtained from broken-down carbohydrates to function without defect.
2. Your body can store it.
Excessive glucose left over after your body is done using it for energy is stored by your body for later use. This stored energy is used up whenever your body senses that you might be headed to starvation.
The leftover glucose is stored in both the liver as well as muscle tissues as a substance called Glycogen. Glycogen stored in the liver is periodically released into the blood. This helps in providing additional energy required for daily activities.
Also, this helps regulate the blood levels of sugar in between meals. The glycogen stored in muscles is used by muscle tissue exclusively and is often released during HIIT workouts.
Excess carbohydrates remaining after the glycogen stores are full get converted into fat molecules for additional storage.
3. No Carbs equals HANGRY
Let me break it down for you – when you cut out on carbs, you miss out on a major fuel for your body. Carbs are the primary source of energy and when the body runs out of energy, carbohydrates are the first thing that the body taps into and feeds off. Having cut out on them means being pestered, irritated, and ready-to-blow-off all day.
That gives us ‘angry’. Secondly, missing on carbs can not only make you more prone to eating fast food but also increase your appetite manifolds. This gives us ‘hungry’. Now combine the two (angry and hungry) and there you have it – HANGRY! Solved!
A meal with a balanced amount of carbs works to maintain the mood and keep us energetic throughout the day while also keeping us satiated with the meal.
4. Your digestive system needs carbohydrates.
There are two types of dietary fibers – soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fibre is a component you shall find in fruits, vegetables (towards their cores), oats, etc. During their long journey through your digestive system, they bind with water molecules and result in the formation of some kind of gel that helps add bulk to the resultant stools. They also ease the bowel movements by softening the stools. So, bye-bye constipation!
But wait a minute. Insoluble fibres do the exact opposite. Found towards the outer parts of fruits and vegetables, insoluble fibres aid in the hastening of bowel movements and promote the hardening of stools. They’re also known to protect your digestive tract against diseases such as diverticular disease.
5. Your heart needs it!
Of course, I am not here to tell you to load up on coke and candy in the hopes that they will do wonders for your heart. The truth could not be further from that (sadly).
But again, the good carbohydrates- the ones rich in fiber and the ones you should be consuming if you are considering a carb diet for weight gain- can do wonders for your heart as well as your metabolism.
From the time fiber enters your body, it is on a rather long journey to benefit you in as many ways as possible. During this journey, as it heads into your small intestine, it picks up and binds to bile acids that are present there. These are then taken away outside the body.
Bile salts are given the duty of assistance in the digestion of fats and oils that we consume. Now that the bile acids in the small intestine have dropped in levels, the liver gets to work to replenish them.
During this process, the additional bile acids are produced using what was stored as cholesterol by the liver which would’ve otherwise ended up in your blood as “bad cholesterol” or LDL Cholesterol.
And we all know what that does to the heart! It forms plaques in the vessels of your heart and leads to diseases such as Coronary Artery Disease which eventually causes blockage of the artery thus resulting in the rather fatal Myocardial Infarction, quite commonly known as the heart attack.
Studies have shown that additional fiber consumption by just 07g has aided in lowering the risk of heart disease by up to 9%.
6. You will be able to prevent Diabetes.
A huge risk often associated with following a high carb-high protein diet for weight gain is the procurement of diabetes mellitus (type two diabetes).
While it is very true that the wrong kinds of carbohydrates shall increase blood sugar in a bad way, the healthy carbohydrates that we keep talking about can help prevent diabetes entirely.
Again, it’s the dietary fiber that does the magic.
The absorption of other carbohydrates is slowed down effectively by the fiber present in the digestive system such that the blood sugar levels never surge instantaneously like they would if you were to consume some cotton candy. Dietary fiber doubly helps by not increasing blood sugar levels on its own as well as preventing the rise caused by other forms of carbohydrates.
7. Your muscles need Carbs to be intact!
For those who stumbled upon this article when researching good carbs or fat for weight gain, here is the part you shall be most interested to read about. There is no denying that proteins are the ultimate macronutrients to turn to if you are looking to build your body strongly and athletically.
However, there is a lot to be said about carbohydrates on the muscle front, and the fact that they help preserve muscles is vital news for those of you who were worried your diet would be now limited to steaks and eggs.
Now, remember what I told you about how glucose is stored as glycogen for later use in the muscles. Now, at any point during starvation, when the body is not able to derive enough glucose from carbohydrates, it shall begin to break down the muscles to release amino acids (the simplest form of proteins) along with glucose to produce the energy that is required for the body to function.
For the continued normal functioning of the brain, your body breaks down your muscle mass and derives energy from it as your brain absolutely needs glucose to survive.
Hence, cutting off carbohydrates from your diet entirely results in loss of muscle mass and the prospects of weight gain in a healthy manner are minimal should this happen.
Now that we know exactly why carbohydrates are essential for our body, let us understand them better by exploring the different types of carbohydrates.
Types of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are rather widely present macronutrients present in almost all the foods that we eat and can easily be classified into different types based on different categories.
The first category splits them into complex and simple carbohydrates. This division is based on the duration and effort that your body takes to break down the carbohydrates into absorbable forms and the level of fiber content present in the foods.
The good carbs for weight gain, complex carbs take longer to digest and thus are considered to be a more substantial form of energy than their simple counterpart. They are formed by sugar molecules that are strung together in rather complicated frameworks.
These are the carbohydrates that are present in your bread, rice, pasta, vegetables, etc. The complex carbohydrates include both your starch as well as dietary fiber. The fact that they take longer to digest usually helps with keeping a person full for a longer time.
Besides providing your body with glucose, the foods containing complex carbohydrates are rich in vitamins and minerals as well (reason for being called good carbs for weight gain).
This and all the other benefits of dietary fiber that we have discussed above is the reason why complex carbohydrates are considered to be the best source of carbohydrates in a balanced diet.
In order to maintain a high carb diet for weight gain, most of the carbohydrate content in your diet is supposed to come from complex carbohydrates as opposed to simple carbohydrates.
Often known as the worst carb for weight gain, simple carbihydrates are easier to digest and comprise foods such as table sugar, caramel sauce, etc that cause a surge in blood sugar levels but aren’t necessarily healthy as a source of carbohydrates.
Simple carbohydrates are sugars. They offer very less nutritional value but are rather tasty. Every sugary goodness your mom told you to stay away from and your doctor shall too if you were to ask- falls under this category.
This includes most of the junk food you so love that is sugary sweet- fructose syrup, fruit concentrates, corn syrup, etc. Cookies and pastries also fall under this category sadly, but that’s alright.
You can easily make them at home without using any refined sugar or white flour in a way that they are healthy using alternative healthy ingredients. So all is not lost.
Diving Deeper into the Categories
Another, more medically preferred method of categorically dividing carbohydrates such that it is easy to decide whether they are fit for healthy and regular consumption or not, is to calculate their glycemic index.
In simple terms, the glycemic index can be defined as the level up to which your blood sugar can rise when you consume a particular food as compared to consuming plain sugar directly.
Simple carbohydrates have a high glycemic index and hence they are digested pretty easily. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand have a low glycemic index, this testifying the fact that you shall not be witnessing a surge in your blood sugar levels should you be consuming them.
However, the glycemic index is not a sure shot method of deciding whether a food is healthy or not.
To understand whether your choice of food for obtaining carbohydrates is optimal, the best method would be to consider the other nutrients that are provided by the food source as well.
It should come as no surprise to you that this is why weight gain fruits and vegetables are considered to be among the healthiest foods that one can eat to gain weight and otherwise.
Carbs for Weight Gain – The answer to Healthy Weight
So do carbs really help gain weight? Yes, and vice versa, however, it truly all depends on how we consume it. Since we’re talking about weight gain associated with carbs, let me first demystify the one rumor that everyone so easily believes – carbs lead to obesity.
In reality, any source of energy when taken in too many proportions leads to obesity; blame the appetite. This crucial macronutrient is often derogated as the ‘button-busting devil’, and when people miserably cut out on carbs, they miss out on a healthy and balanced meal.
Carbs are inextricably linked to weight gain and healthy weight when taken in the right quantity and order. Usually, low-fiber, high-glycemic carbs help you buff up and if you are limited to pipe-cleaner limbs, carbs can be your BFFs.
Recommended: Here’s an in-depth article on How Calorie Surplus helps in Weight Gain.
What about Carbs for Energy?
Food high in carbs does not just lead to healthy weight gain but also fuels up energy and bolsters brain function. The primary reason why a high-carb meal leads to weight gain is the spike in blood sugar.
A rush in blood sugar causes insulin production which in turn stimulates the body to store carbs and fat in the body and thus gain weight.
However, in order to gain a healthy weight, you should manage your carb intake, control your meals, and be thoughtful about portion sizes. When you enjoy carbs in moderation, healthy ones, in fact, you can easily round your meals to help you gain weight (not fat).
5 Best Carb Foods for Weight Gain
There are fries and then there’s quinoa – both of them are carbs but which one’s healthier? We all know. Now that I have established my point here, below is a list of 5 foods with good carbs for weight gain, that can help you crush your fitness goals and burst the devilish carb bubble.
The treasure cove to magnesium and potassium and a whole lot of good carbs, bananas were sure to top the list. They do not just help gain healthy weight but also suppress the appetite for salty foods that will make you bloat. Feeding the good bacteria with their stacked up prebiotic compounds, you should truly go bananas for bananas. Just saying.
1 cup of bananas is loaded with 134 calories, 34-gram carbs, zilch fat (0.5g), and 1.6-grams protein. Chock full of nutrients including Vitamin C, sodium, and calcium, apart from magnesium and potassium, bananas are more than just your daily fruit snack.
With such high palatability and versatility, you can do a lot more with bananas than just skin it and chomp. Add a full banana (7-8 inches long) to your oatmeal or mix them up with yogurt. Bananas go great with Greek yogurt or milk if you are especially looking to gain those extra muscles.
2. Lentils and Beans
Are pulses all about protein? Surely not. They have a double-duty as a great high carb option to put on some weight. Not just lentils or beans but chickpeas and peas are great options too. When you’re consuming pulses you are not just stacking up on carbs but also high amounts of protein. What is that synonymous to? Muscles and weight gain!
Lentils and beans are packed with minerals, a whole lot of fiber and have a glorious profile of B-vitamins. Half a cup of mixed pulses has about 10 grams of protein that can easily replace fats and needlessly stacky protein from your meal. The best part? They come off much cheaper than most foods that are loaded with both carbs and proteins.
If you want to step up your gaining regime and are truly passionate about eating healthy to stock up on weight, bean-based pasta is the magical potion for you. Now your spaghetti isn’t just 10 times healthier, it’s also sitting on the top of the nutritional checklist you created for a balanced meal.
Do you see that halo of health and goodness on the top of its head? Yes, that is quinoa. And quinoa is an absolutely irresistible option for a high carb food for people looking to either gain weight or shed some.
Although most people know quinoa for its high amount of protein, quinoa is loaded with carbs. In fact, half a cup of cooked quinoa has just as many carbs as half a bowl of white rice.
Quinoa, however, isn’t just carbs or protein but also boasts a good profile of fiber, vitamins, and myriad minerals.
High in calories (not empty calories), quinoa is a great fuel for workout session with about 222 calories in one cup of cooked quinoa. With the negligible concentration of saturated fat, quinoa is a versatile high-carb food to include in your diet in order to gain weight.
Before you blame potatoes for the obesity around you, think twice. Potatoes can be your ammunition in the weight-gain game.
Potent sources of starch, potatoes when consumed in the boiled form or cooked with veggies can lead to healthy weight gain. If you consume excess potatoes, especially as fries, sticks, or chips, it’s not the humble potato you should be blaming for ‘fat’ gain.
A medium potato has about 155 calories and contains as much as 37 grams of carbs and almost negligible fat. The high amount of carb and a decent amount of protein makes potatoes an ideal choice for stocking muscular weight.
If I had to rate foods in terms of their ability to help weight gain, I’d most probably keep Rice on the top. One of the best carb foods for weight gain, rice can be mixed with pretty much all protein foods to give a calorie boosted meal for the day.
Apart from giving you about 44 grams of carbohydrates per 158 grams of rice, they are loaded with calories, and should be a part of your essentials if you are looking to gain weight fast.
The best way to save time is prepare your meals with rice in the morning, and make it in bulk so you can consume throughout the day. Mix rice with chicken, lentils, fish, or any other protein and consume throughout the day, and you are on your way to putting on that mass!
Saturating your focus on carbs is an absolute strategy for weight gain. Healthy carbs make for the perfect way to help you be in a calorie surplus so you are gaining more than you sweat away during your gym hours.
Loading up pounds requires you to not only eat healthy but also eat the right amount of it. With a focus on healthy carbs for weight gain, you do not just eat good but also eat enough to pave the road to those toned abs that you have been pining up for so long.
However healthy carbs are always healthy to a limit. Post that, they are just carbs making you obese. Thus always practice portion control, and also keep adding the other two gems in a weight gain program – fat and protein.
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Swati is a Content Writer and Blogger based in India, who is fervently passionate about nutrition, and supplements – anything that sounds synonymous with fitness and health. She has been certified for completion of online courses in Nutrition, Essentials of Sports Nutrition, and Bodybuilding Supplements. Apart from online courses, she is constantly looking to absorb factually correct information on health and fitness, personalizing workout and diet routines for herself and people in her circle, who wish to adopt a better lifestyle.
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