I want to talk about something that I get questions about a lot on my Instagram and from my clients and members of my gym as well and it generally goes something like; “how many carbs should I be eating on a daily basis?” or the classic “aren’t carbs fattening?” and then there’s the overly used “I try to stay away from carbs” WAIT WHAT? Who would ever tell someone to stay away from carbs and why would they do such a thing? As a personal trainer who hears these things on the daily and a soon to be nutrition student I am always reading new books and studies to educate myself so that I can further educate my clients and the people around me, and let me tell you; low carb is a thing of the past (hooray)
So why are we still hearing about low carb diets on an almost daily basis? There are a few reasons; one of which is marketing, the food industry is arguably the largest industry in the world today (and it is constantly growing) so as long as they come up with new diets and new types of food to go with these diets they will keep growing and in turn continue making money. Another is the fact that health and nutrition sciences are growing more rapidly than ever before, we are seeing more and more of a need for Nutritionists and Registered Dietitian due to the rapid growth in childhood and adult obesity and diseases today. Nutrition was for a very long time (and still is somewhat) unchartered territory in the sense that no one really showed any interest or concern in educating themselves on what their body needs to thrive at the highest level possible. People view carbohydrates as “bad for us” because they consume the wrong amounts and type of carbs and in turn become bloated and feel sluggish, but what if I told you that our bodies not only need carbs but that they actually thrive off of them? Crazy right??
What a lot of people don’t know is that carbohydrates are actually our bodies number one source of energy and that the primary role of carbohydrates is to supply our body’s cell’s with glucose which is our bodies immediate energy source and glycogen which is stored as an energy reserve for our body to use later on. Glucose is also the preferred fuel source for our brain and nerve cells so when we do not replenish our glucose levels by eating carbohydrates our body looks for other sources of energy and they turn to protein. When our body starts to break down protein it is actually breaking down our muscle tissue and converting it into glucose which results in loss of muscle mass and if you are even remotely in to fitness you know how long it takes to build muscle mass so having your body break that down is not an option.
Now don’t get me wrong not all carbs are created equal, there is a HUGE difference between eating quinoa and sweet potatoes every day and going to town on a loaf of white bread and a bowl of pasta every day (unfortunately). When choosing a carb source you want to try to stay away from simple carbohydrates as they metabolize very rapidly, mostly as sugar, and are often “empty” nutritionally. When you consume a simple carb, all of the ingested sugar quickly rushes into your bloodstream and you typically feel a quick rush of energy. Your body then reacts to this sudden spike in blood sugar by calling on the pancreas to produce additional insulin to remove the excess sugar from your blood which results in a feeling of needing more fuel, more energy and more calories. All of that aside there are certain times where a simple carb can be helpful such as if you are ever experiencing low blood sugar and need a quick boost, but generally we want to stick to complex carbohydrates, as they take longer to break down therefor keeping us satisfied for longer. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and offer some kind of nutritional benefit whether it’s fibre or a source of protein, they are also often high in vitamins and minerals (win win WIN).
So which is which? Let me break it down for you;
- Sweet potatoes/yams
- Brown/wild rice
- Whole and Sprouted Grains (and foods made from them)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.)
- Green vegetables (broccoli, green beans, etc.)
- Squash (pumpkin, butternut, etc.)
- Fruit juice
- White bread
Your body needs a balance of carbs, protein and healthy fats for every meal in order to thrive how it is meant to, to maintain energy levels and to aid in muscle growth. It is especially important to make sure you’re getting a good amount of carbohydrates directly before and after a workout as well to first give you energy and then to replenish your energy systems that have been depleted! I recently had my macros professionally calculated and my coach upped my carbs by 80 grams from what I was eating previously (WTF) and at first I’ll admit I was hesitant to do that much of an increase but I feel AMAZING, I’m able to push so much harder in my workouts and I am leaner than ever! All benefits aside, the best things in life are made of carbs (I’m looking at you pizza and donuts) and if you deny that even for a second you are not being honest with yourself (liar liar pants on fire) it is important to feed your body what it needs but it is also important to cut yourself some slack and enjoy a balanced lifestyle and diet. Do not ever deprive your body of your macronutrients and do not mentally deprive yourself of the things you love.
Long story short, carbs are your friend so please eat them, enjoy them and do not be so hard on yourself.