Sweet Potatoes: The King of Carbs
This post is an introduction to the most practical source of carbs for bodybuilders, Paleo dieters, vegans, and anyone who knows delicious, quality food when they taste it. The King of Carbs used to be a staple in our household before we made the transition to the "Ketovore" lifestyle.
NOT ALL CARBS ARE CREATED EQUAL! Whole, natural, complex carb sources will optimize muscle building, provide nutrients, fuel your body, and, of course, taste delicious.
Carbohydrates are groups of compounds synthesized by plants from carbon dioxide and water, including sugars, starches, and cellulose. They can be divided into categories of simple and complex. Simple carbs such as white rice, fruits, honey, and syrup digest quickly, providing fast energy for the body but also signal the pancreas to release insulin, which clears out the sugar from your blood stream and can lead to a crash in energy, commonly called a “sugar crash.” While there are plenty of vitamins, antioxidants, and other health benefits associated with fruit, complex carbs are a better choice for an athlete looking for sustained energy.
Complex carbohydrates are like balls of yarn. You can’t use all of the yarn at once; you need to slowly unravel the yarn, and eventually you can use what you need. When complex carbs are consumed, they are digested slowly for up to a couple hours, providing a slow, steady energy supply to the body. Examples include oats, parsnips, and sweet potatoes. With most complex carbs, the pancreas have no reason to release large amounts of insulin, and there is no dreaded “sugar crash.”
While there are plenty of quality carb sources to choose from, if you had to choose one, which provides the greatest amount of benefits? The answer is the King of Carbs—the sweet potato.
In terms of carbs, why are they so special?
Best of Both Worlds. Fruits are high in vitamins. Vegetables are rich in minerals. Sweet potatoes are LOADED with BOTH! One sweet potato this size of your fist contains the following RDA (recommended dietary allowance):
- 438% Vitamin A
- 37% Vitamin C
- 16% Vitamin B12
- 28% Manganese
- 15% Potassium
- 8% Magnesium1
- Low Glycemic Index. With a GI rating of 54, sweet potatoes cause less insulin release than most other carb sources.2
- Digests slowly. Energy is available for a longer period of time than simple carbs.
- Satiating. When whole, natural foods such as sweet potatoes are consumed, the human body has a natural way of realizing it has received the nutrition it needs and therefore regulates production of the hormones leptin (increases appetite) and ghrelin (decreases appetite). You are more likely to eat the optimal serving size intuitively—never the case with ice cream!
- Diverse. They’re not just politically correct because they come in different shapes and colors. They can be used in a vast variety of recipes. We have made desserts, fries, chips, pancakes, waffles, muffins, dinners such as Shepherd’s Pie, and even sweet potato brownies! We will write separate blogs for our favorite recipes, but here are our two favorite nutrition books:
- The Sweet Potato Diet by Michael Morelli. This book simplifies carb cycling with a practical, realistic approach using sweet potatoes as the focal point of living lean and strong. Michael’s recipes are incredible and we’ve used just about all of them.
- Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam. Filled with tips, fun facts, and even comics, this resource is a staple in our household and also has some sweet potato recipes.
- Anti-Inflammatory. Although grains and legumes share many of the benefits listed above, here’s where the most notable difference lies: grains and legumes are filled with inflammatory anti-nutrients. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, do not share this downside, and are rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene.
- Immune Support. With an ample supply of Vitamin C and antioxidants in a single serving, your immune system will thank you. You should still wear a mask, though. Except to eat your sweet potatoes.
Why sweet potatoes work for me Pre-Ketovore:
- The Best Diet in the World Is the One You Can Stick To. Sweet potatoes were my candy. As long as I got my pre-planned daily intake of sweet potatoes, I was never temped by any food choices that wouldn't benefit my physique or my health.
- Simplicity. Bodybuilding is a meticulous sport in which carb-consuming athletes must pay strict attention to the exact amount of carbohydrates that are being consumed in order to make accurate adjustments. Every carb source varies in the amount of carbohydrates it contains per serving; if you stick with one source, the math is a breeze.
- Easy Preparation. Cut them in half, throw on some tequila or bourbon and some ginger, then bake them for 1-1/2 hours at 375 degrees. Done. Of course we had become creative and had fun with different recipes but my favorite way to prepare them was how I just described. When you minimize your intake of processed foods, it’s astounding to find how much flavor God put in whole, natural foods for us to enjoy.
- Bodybuilding Staple. Most of the bodybuilders I have known include sweet potatoes as a regular item in their contest prep. As far as carb sources go, it simply has an outstanding return-on-investment for your health, and can be used strategically to carb-load and fill muscles out to their maximum potential with less risk of spillover—the unfortunate outcome of consuming too many of the wrong types of carbs in an attempt to peak for a show, resulting in a soft, washed appearance with a lack of muscle definition.
- BONUS: Pairs with Quality Bourbon. My reward for a hard-worked day was always to enjoy a glass of neat bourbon with my sweet potatoes to wind down and refuel. The combination of flavor profiles is a match made in heaven.
To summarize: Sweet Potatoes are the King of Carbs because they offer more total benefits than any other source of carbs.
- “Page 14.” Sweet Potato Diet: the Super Carb-Cycling Program to Lose up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks, by Michael Morelli, Perseus Books, 2017.
- “The Glycemic Index!” Bodybuilding.com, 10 Apr. 2019, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/issa5.htm.
- Lehman, Shereen. “15 Anti-Inflammatory Foods You Should Be Eating.” Verywell Health, 14 Jan. 2020, www.verywellhealth.com/anti-inflammatory-foods-2505929.