Carbs are not the enemy!
Updated: Feb 19, 2018
Want to know how carbs can HELP you achieve your goals? read on!
I will start with carbs and Fatloss
Its important to know that carbohydrates aren’t ‘the enemy’ and are not THE cause fat gain- it will always come down to calories in versus calories out across the week. Where they do cause problems is that they are very easy to overconsume- I often use the analogy of how much easier and quicker it is to eat a bag of crisps, than a chicken breast. Fats are also more satisfying in terms of satiety, and generally have more flavour, so an individual is satisfied quicker when eating a meal high in fats than they are carbohydrates.
Many will argue that low carb diets are more effective for fat loss than low fat diets, however the evidence for this is based on studies which didn’t take into account protein intake- when this is kept equal for both diets, fat loss is the same in each.
Another issue with carbohydrates revolves around Insulin- this hormone is released in response to an increase in blood sugar levels, and generally carbohydrates create the most violent release- the higher the glycaemic index the more violent this is – so white pasta, white bread, sweets etc. The body MUST stay within a tight range of blood glucose, so anything that pushes this up to a high level (such as sweets, white rice, pasta etc) is rapidly removed from the blood stream, and into fat and muscle cells. This removal is experienced as a ‘crash’ you’ll often feel a little while after consuming these foods.
Unfortunately , your body will then crave the high it experienced before, from these carbs, and will want to eat them again, so essentially you end up on a rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows, rather than keeping your blood sugar levels steady, and not experiencing these highs and lows and the cravings that go with them.
Another important thing to point out is that people like carbs, and the minute you tell someone they can’t have something , they want it more! Eventually they often end up bingeing on the thing they have cut out, which induces a poor relationship with those foods and a viscious cycle of bingeing and purging may begin. Not to mention the practicalities of trying to avoid eating carbohydrates- especially when you are eating out- It’s not easy! Having a low or no –carb diet also massively restricts you- it makes eating out very difficult, and hugely reduces your meal options in general.
Carbohydrates are also important for maintain sleep quality (1) and hormonal health (2), and sources such as potatoes and beans also have are high in vitamins and minerals, e.g. B Vitamins.
Training and performance
For high intensity training and weight training, carbs are required and should be consumed pre and post workout- to make sure you have enough fuel for the workout, and to refuel for the next. Unless you are working out more than once a day , the carbs do not need to be consumed immediately after your workout, so if you are training at lunch for example , if you want to eat a carby dinner with your family, this is fine.
Although to as essential for muscle building as once thought, there is a small effect when combined with protein post-workout (provided the protein used is correct), and there is some evidence to suggest they are beneficial in increasing the time-period you can be building muscle for, so including a carb source in your snacks between workouts would be a good idea for those looking for maximal gains.
With regards to the type of carbs, it is best to stick to lower Glycaemic index carbs (most fruit and vegetables , milk, some wholegrain cereals and breads, boiled sweet potatoes, pulses and basmati rice) –to keep blood sugar levels steady and prevent the highs then crashes which makes you crave the high- and the carbs- again. The only exception to this is if you choose to eat less than about 90 mins before your workout ( I do tend to recommend these as pre workout snacks), as you may have problems with digesting the food, or those that can’t tolerate a lot of fibre, or if the aim is to refuel as quickly as possible ( for example you are training more than once in a day).
For those that only undergo low intensity exercise ( e.g. yoga , walking, low intensity runs) you would operate best on a fairly low carbohydrate diet as your ‘fuel’ needs will be different. But bearing in mind what I have mentioned above re adherence and general health, it is important not to cut them out completely.
So how much should I be having?
In terms of exact amounts- this is really the only macro where I don’t set guidelines ( bar endurance athletes, I am happy to do a separate post on this , or feel free to message me)- some people feel better on a higher carb diet, some on a lower carb diet. The priority should always be on keeping your protein sufficient ( covered in the last blog), 5-8 fruit and veg sources a day, and meeting the minimum amount of fat ( covered in the next blog) – aside from this, try and keep the majority of carbs around your workouts, and other meals and snacks should be dominated by protein and fats.
The other guidance I do give my clients, which is especially useful when eating out, is that a portion of carbs should be the size of a cupped handful, and that you can have three portions of fats and carbs at each meal in any combination ( for example two portions of carbs and one of fats- the mix of this should be more fat dominant if you partake in low intensity exercise only).
So don’t be scared of carbs, just know how to use them to your advantage!
As always, if you have any questions, or would like further details on the topics covered above, do not hesitate to contact me using the contact button above.
PHOTO CREDIT FOR THE MAIN IMAGE USED IN THIS BLOG: Farmacy Kitchen
1. St-Onge et al (2016) Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality. Advances in Nutrition, 7(5) 938-949 doi:10.3945/an.116.012336.
2. Mathieson et al (1986) The effect of varying carbohydrate content on a very-low –caloric diet on resting metabolic rate and thyroid hormones. Metabolism. 35(5):938-949.