Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Learn about the characteristics of white and brown rice and see how they fit into an athlete's diet.

When you visit a restaurant, you sometimes get a choice of white or brown rice with your meal. Your health-minded friend probably tells you brown is the better choice. But did you ever wonder why?

Let's take a look at the characteristics of these two types of rice and see how they fit into an athlete's diet.

Brown rice is a whole grain, meaning it contains all of the naturally occuring components of the grain seed:

  • Bran: Tough outer protective layer, which is rich in fiber, essential fatty acids, protein and iron. It's removed in the milling process for white rice.
  • Germ: Similar to the yolk of an egg, this is the plant embryo that nourishes the seed. It's rich in unsaturated fat, protein and fiber. Also removed in processing white rice.
  • Endosperm: Similar to an egg white, this is the food supply for the wheat germ and is rich in protein.

Brown rice is richer in fiber than white rice—helping you feel full longer—and it's more nutrient-rich. It's also a low-glycemic food, meaning it is slow to raise blood sugar levels. White rice will raise your blood sugar levels faster. (Learn why the glycemic index is so important.)

White rice is not a whole grain. It is stripped of its bran layer and germ, leaving only the starchy endosperm. By stripping off these layers, producers alter the flavor profile, soften the texture and give the rice a longer shelf life. White rice is much lower in fiber and key nutrients, which is why you often see enriched white rice with B vitamins added after processing.

The more processed the rice is—microwave rice is the most processed—the higher its glycemic value and the higher it raises blood sugar levels. One cup of white rice provides 205 calories and 45g carbs, making it slightly lower in calories than brown rice with identical carbs but lower fiber, vitamins and minerals.

High Glycemic Foods

High glycemic foods may taste great—after all, they are very close to sugar—but regular consumption can lead to weight gain, diabetes and heart problems. You might be tempted to eat them before a competition for a quick energy boost, but in most cases white rice won't help and could even hurt your performance.

Eating brown rice about three hours before you exercise is a better option. Pair it with beans for complementary protein or eat it as a side with chicken or fish and vegetables. If that's not possible, have a smaller meal with brown rice one hour before exercise.

RELATED: Why Everything You Think You Know About Carbs Is Wrong

During exercise, you want the high-glycemic, quick digestible carbs, so white rice (perhaps in the form of a rice cake) can serve as a great source of portable energy. Brown rice digests slower and won't deliver energy as quickly into the bloodstream.

Immediately following exercise, continue to eat high glycemic carbs to promote faster glycogen-store recovery and increased muscle synthesis. Pair those rice cakes with peanut butter or eat some steamed white rice with chicken for an excellent post-workout recovery snack that will prepare you for another day of hard work.

Unless you just ran a marathon or competed in an ultra-endurance event, where you need to replace seriously depleted energy stores, you should return to moderate and low glycemic carbs the rest of the day.

Getting adequate but not excessive calories from carbohydrates is important to maintain ideal body weight and promote long-term health.

Start eating brown rice with this excellent chicken stir-fry with brown rice recipe.

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