Eating protein all the time is great for muscle building, but sometimes you just need carbs. As a matter of fact, the International Society of Sport Nutrition recommends that exercising individuals eat 1.4 to 2 grams per kilogram of protein and 5 to 10 grams per kilograms of carbs per day. For a 185-pound male, that’s about 168 grams of protein (on the high-end) or 672 calories of protein per day and 420 grams or 1681 calories or carbs per day (on the low end).
In order to build your best physique, your body needs and craves some good old-fashioned carbs. Rather than completely derail your training diet, opt for these low-calorie, fiber-filled options that will satisfy your carb craving without weighing you down.
Although potatoes sometimes get a bad reputation as being starchy veggies that lack nutrients, sweet potatoes are actually one of the healthiest sources of complex carbs. Not only does 1 cup of cooked sweet potatoes only have 180 calories, it has 6 grams of fiber and more than 600% the recommended daily value of Vitamin A. You’ll also get 4 grams of protein and 40 grams of carbs in this sweet spud. Plus, sweet potatoes are high in potassium, which is needed to prevent muscle cramps. Chop them up, toss with olive oil and salt and roast them in the oven (with the skin on for extra fiber). Or roast the potato whole and top with ground turkey, salsa, lettuce and a dollop of Greek yogurt for a fully loaded and high- protein baked potato.
Pasta may be the last thing you want to eat if you’re on a low-carb diet, but bean based options have made pasta doable for everyone. Made with a variety of different beans, such as chickpeas, black beans, mung beans or edamame, these pastas are completely vegan, usually gluten-free and very high in protein. Explore Cuisine is a brand that makes organic bean-based pastas that serve up 20-25 grams protein, 12 grams of fiber and only 19 grams of carbohydrates per 2-ounce serving. That is significantly less carbs than most pastas, and with that amount of protein and fiber, you will feel full without overdosing on starch.
Lentils come in multiple varieties, like brown, red and green, and they’re a great substitute for meat or starchy grains. Delivering twice the amount of protein per serving of quinoa, one cup of cooked lentils contains 18 grams of protein for just 230 calories, with 37% of your daily recommended amount of iron. That cup of lentils also provides 40 grams of carbs 15 grams of fiber—more than half your daily value! Not only are lentils are a rich source of low-calorie protein, but they are a great meat substitute. Substitute ground meat for lentils or make a blend of half lentils and half meat to reduce the calories in tacos or burgers.
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The varieties of winter squash are endless. From delicata to acorn to butternut to spaghetti squash, you can eat a different type of winter squash every night of the week. Plus, they are packed with nutrients and provide a carby satisfaction without much of the guilt. We like butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Both are high in antioxidants Vitamin C and Vitamin A, which prevent post-workout inflammation, and they satisfy the need for a post-workout carb. And, both of these squash are low in calories and carbs, coming in at just 80 calories, 20 carbs and 6 grams of fiber per cup. Peel and dice butternut squash and roast in the oven with a dash of oil, cinnamon and salt for a sweet healthy side dish. Or cut a spaghetti squash in half and roast in the oven until it is easy to scoop out with a fork (about 45 minutes). Top with marinara sauce and your favorite meat for a lower-carb pasta substitute.
Green peas are often overlooked, but they contain so much nutritional value in such a small legume. One cup of starchy peas has only 130 calories, 9 grams of protein, 25 grams of complex carbs and one third of your daily fiber. Peas also contain as much potassium as a banana, which is one of the electrolytes lost in sweat. They are also extremely economical and can be purchased frozen and thrown into virtually any meal, like soups, stir fries, pastas or mashed up to make a creamy dip.
Let’s be honest, sometimes the need for carbs comes in the form of a snack craving. Rather than reaching for a bag of potato chips, opt for air-popped popcorn. This whole grain is filled with fiber to keep you full, but has only 30 calories per cup and 6 grams of carbs. It’s an all-natural snack, and 3 cups of popcorn counts as one serving from the whole grain group.
Everyone’s favorite Asian appetizer is actually a protein-filled starchy option. Made from a young soybean, edamame can be purchased fresh or frozen and eaten with just a touch of salt. Naturally gluten-free, it has 180 calories, 18 grams of protein and 14 grams of carbs in just one cup. It’s also an excellent source of iron and calcium, and it’s got about one-third of your daily value of fiber. Instead of adding more rice to your stir-fry, throw in some edamame for more protein and fiber to keep you fuller longer.
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Artichokes are in season from March until June, and they can be prepared and eaten in a handful of ways. Steamed, braised, grilled, or added to dips and salads, artichokes (and their hearts) are a starchy bulb that satisfy your need for carbs with very little calories. One medium sized artichoke has only 65 calories and 15 grams of carbs with 7 grams of fiber. If cooking the mighty artichoke is intimidating, start by adding artichoke hearts to your salad. Not only does it have a starchy mouthfeel, but the fiber will keep you full without any weight gain.