Rice is a staple for many athletes, regardless if they’re looking to gain or lose weight.
So you may be wondering if rice is slow or fast digesting and when to consume it to optimize your body composition and performance.
The digestibility of rice varies depending on the type selected (white, brown, red, or black) and whether the foods you pair it with are rich in protein, fat, and fiber. Most varieties of rice have a medium to high GI (meaning they are fast digesting), except for brown rice which falls in the low GI category.
To understand how to make rice work for your goals, it’s important to learn when to consume it, what to pair it with, and which variety to choose.
- Rice varieties have a similar carb content, with wholegrain varieties containing more fiber. White rice is the most refined type and the least nutritious since it undergoes processing (stripping it from fiber, vitamins, and minerals).
- It’s best to choose brown rice when you want to stay full for longer periods, and white rice before or after a workout when you want fast-acting energy.
- Rice (regardless of the type) digests faster when eaten on its own, and slower when combined with other sources of protein, fat, and fiber.
Understanding the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index (GI) serves as a valuable tool for selecting foods that help maintain balanced blood sugar levels by providing a measurement of how quickly carbohydrates in foods raise blood sugar.
Foods are assigned to either a low, medium, or high GI (1-55 for low, 56-69 for medium, and 70-100 for high).
Lower scores indicate a gradual rise in blood sugars (since they are digested more slowly), while higher scores indicate a rapid increase in blood sugars (due to being digested quickly).
However, a food’s GI rating should not be the sole factor considered when making dietary choices as other factors, like portion sizes, cooking methods, and the presence of other nutrients (like fiber, protein, and fat), influence the GI of a food.
The GI also does not take into account the actual quantity of carbs consumed. This is where the concept of glycemic load (GL) comes into play, which combines the GI of food with the amount of carbohydrates it contains in a serving of food (more on this later).
- Related: What Are Fast Digesting Foods? 10 Examples & When to Eat
How Long Does It Take Rice To Digest?
The complete digestion of rice can range from 30 minutes to 3-4 hours, depending on the type of rice consumed (white, brown, etc.), the portion size, the cooking method, and whether it is consumed alongside other foods.
Black and brown rice varieties take longer to digest than short-grain white rice varieties because they contain more fiber. White varieties are quicker to digest because they have less fiber.
When rice is eaten on its own, it digests quicker than when combined with other foods, such as protein and fat-rich foods.
When combined with other foods, it takes longer to digest (close to the 3-4 hour timeframe), because fat and protein take longer to break down, slowing the digestion of the entire meal.
Is Rice A Complex or Simple Carb?
Rice is made of starch (a long chain of glucose molecules), which is a complex carbohydrate.
Although some varieties undergo significant processing to have the bran and germ removed (fiber) making it digest more quickly, rice remains a complex carbs because it’s mostly made up of starch.
Complex carbs consist of long chains of sugar molecules that require more time to be broken down, such as starch. Consuming foods abundant in complex carbs and fiber results in a gradual release of energy due to the delayed digestion caused by fiber.
In contrast, simple carbs are composed of shorter chains of sugar molecules that are rapidly broken down, such as glucose and lactose. Foods with lots of simple carbs provide immediate energy.
The following table shows how rice compares to other types of carb-containing foods using their GI scores provided by the International Tables of glycemic index values.
*Low GI foods are 1-55, medium GI foods are 56-69, and high GI foods are 70+.
|Basmati white rice||67|
|Baked sweet potato||91|
|Buckwheat honey (USA)||73|
|Apple (with skin on)||40|
In terms of digestion speed and GI, rice takes longer to digest than a baked sweet potato, but it digests more quickly than barley and an apple.
In the context of GL (as explained earlier, GL is how much glucose per serving a food can deliver), its effects on blood sugars change depending on the amount of food eaten.
Foods with a high GI but a small portion size may have a relatively low glycemic load, indicating a moderate impact on blood sugar levels.
Conversely, foods with a low GI but a large portion size may have a higher glycemic load, indicating a more significant impact on blood sugar levels.
Types of Rice: Ranking From Fastest To Slowest Digesting
Rice can have different GI ratings depending on the type you choose. The International tables of glycemic index values show that the GI of most white rice varieties is medium to high, whereas the GI of brown rice is low to medium.
As such, different types of rice varieties will be ranked in the following table, from the fastest to the slowest digesting.
*Low GI foods are 1-55, medium GI foods are 56-69, and high GI foods are 70+.
|Types of Rice||Glycaemic Index|
|Jasmine white rice||84|
|Arborio white rice||69|
|Basmati white rice||67|
|Carnaroli white rice||64|
|Long grain white rice||59|
As you can tell, brown rice digests the slowest since it contains more fiber, whereas jasmine white rice digests the fastest since the fiber has been removed.
Benefits of Eating A (Slow/Fast) Digesting Carb Like Rice
1. Good For Bulking
Choosing a higher GI rice, like Jasmine rice, can make it easier for you to consume more calories while bulking because it will digest quickly and make it easier for you to consume more food without getting as full.
- Related article: 20+ Bodybuilding Foods For Bulking
2. Good For Fat Loss
Choosing a lower GI rice with more fiber, like brown rice, can make it easier to lose fat because it takes longer to digest which means that it will keep you full for longer periods.
Staying full for longer is beneficial while dieting because it will help you to consume fewer calories.
Additionally, breaking down fiber costs your body more energy so you will burn more calories simply by eating higher-fiber foods like brown rice.
Another benefit of rice, regardless of the variety, is that it’s versatile and can be consumed with lots of different foods.
This makes it easy to influence how quickly it digests by pairing it with other fast or slow-digesting foods.
Drawbacks of Eating A (Slow/Fast) Digesting Carb Like Rice
1. It Does Not Provide Immediate Energy
If you’re seeking an immediate energy boost during exercise, rice, even if it has a high GI score, may not be the most effective option due to it containing a high proportion of starch, which is a complex carb.
Choices that provide a quicker release of energy are simple sugars like ripe banana, fruit juice with added sugar, dextrose, or candy.
2. Easy To Overconsume
It can be easy to go overboard with rice, especially with higher GI varieties. Consuming excessive amounts of rice without considering portion sizes can lead to weight gain, difficulties in maintaining a healthy weight, as well as type 2 Diabetes.
“Higher consumption of white rice is associated with a significantly increased risk of type 2 diabetes”– Emily Hu, British Medical Journal
As such, balancing your rice intake with a variety of nutrient-dense foods like vegetables and protein is what you should aim for when your goal is to lose or maintain weight and maintain stable blood sugars.
When Should You Eat Rice?
Rice can be consumed as part of main meals, and even as a snack (as seen in some cultures). However, when it comes to optimizing the release and utilization of its energy, there are some times when it’s more beneficial.
Around Your Workouts
- Pre-workout meal (2-3 hours before to ensure complete digestion): rice accompanied with some lean protein, can be optimal in providing you with sustained energy to fuel your workout. Try to keep this meal low in fat since fat can slow digestion for up to 4 hours.
- Pre-workout snack (30 minutes to 1 hour before exercise): a small portion of white rice or a rice-based product (i.e. rice crackers or rice cakes) on its own can be a source of quick energy; the closer you are to your workout, the smaller the portion should be to avoid feeling overly full, so have half of the usual portion you’d have in a main meal.
- Post-workout meal (within 30 minutes to 1 hour after exercise): rice can be an ideal recovery meal choice as it provides a source of carbs for recovery and restoring energy. It is best paired alongside other foods rich in protein to support muscle recovery and growth.
Around A Carb Loading Period
Rice can be a suitable choice during a carb-loading period, which involves increasing carbohydrate intake in preparation for an endurance event (i.e. a marathon).
Carb loading aims to maximize energy stores in the muscles, help to delay fatigue, and prevent running out of energy (known as “hitting the wall”).
How To Make Rice Digest Faster or Slower
You might want to make rice digest faster if you are close to a workout or make it digest slower if you need a filling meal to keep you energized until the evening.
Since it is a versatile food, you can change the digestion rate of rice easily by:
1. Cooking It Thoroughly
To make rice digest faster, you should cook it more thoroughly because the more it is heated, the more the starches in the rice will start to break down, making it easier and faster to digest once you consume it.
2. Choosing Whole Grain Varieties
If you want rice to digest slower, choose brown rice or other whole-grain varieties since they retain the bran and germ layers (fiber).
The added fiber and nutrients slow down digestion, providing a more sustained release of energy.
3. Choosing Refined Varieties
Opt for white rice (short grain) if you want rice to digest more quickly because refined grains have had the bran and germ layers removed (fiber). If you have it plain (with no sauces or oil), it will digest much faster.
4. Pairing It With Other Foods
If you incorporate fiber-rich foods like vegetables, legumes, or nuts/seeds into rice dishes, it will make rice digest slower.
You can also add protein sources (e.g. beans, chicken, tofu) and fats (e.g. avocado, olive oil, cheese, or cream), to make rice digest more slowly as these ingredients make it more difficult for rice to break down.
Hu E A, Pan A, Malik V, Sun Q. White rice consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: meta-analysis and systematic review BMJ 2012; 344 :e1454 doi:10.1136/bmj.e1454
About The Author
Giulia Rossetto is a qualified Dietitian and Nutritionist.
She holds a Masters in Human Nutrition (University of Sheffield, UK) and more recently graduated as a Dietitian (University of Malta).
Giulia aims to translate evidence-based science to the public through teaching and writing content. She has worked 4+ years in clinical settings and has also published articles in academic journals.
She is into running, swimming and weight lifting, and enjoys spending time in the mountains (she has a soft spot for hiking and skiing in the Italian Dolomites).