I think by now we just do not know what the hell to think when it comes to carbs. Yesterday they were good, today they’re bad, tomorrow who knows. And while I’m not going to profess to know everything there is to know about carbs or nutrition nor am I going to spout out a bunch of information you already know, I do know a thing or two about the body and how it responds to carbs and I want to focus our attention on the basic facts and provide some guidelines for how to approach carbs in the diet.
First off, take a look at the image at the top of this page. This is probably what we think of nowadays when we start the discussion of carbs; we believe we have to think in terms of good and bad carbs. But what if I told you to forget this notion? Ok, don’t freak out just yet! But lets drop the semantics is what I mean. Good vs. bad. As soon as we start to label foods good or bad it puts us in either a positive or negative mindset and, for the purposes of maintaining our mental and physical health and sanity, lets rule these words out and focus on staying positive, as positivity is what’s going to carry us forward and I am ALL about forward momentum #forwardmomentum. With that said, lets just call carbs carbs, as that is exactly what they are.
Now while I wish I could tell you all this, unfortunately this is not a feasible strategy for most of us, women in particular, as we are all built differently from a physiological perspective. And as much as I wish there was a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, it just isn’t so. So how do you know if you are an ‘eat all the carbs’ type? Well, for one, you probably have never struggled with weight issues in your life (hooray for you!), or conversely, you just don’t care and you will eat all the damn carbs if you want to (again hooray for you!). I am not here to tell anyone what they can or cannot eat, ‘can’ being the operative word. You ‘can’ eat whatever you want. But if you are someone that is looking for a means of transformation, whether physical or emotional, what you eat ‘can’ (here goes that word again) play a vital role in transforming your physical and mental health. Knowing some simple facts and strategies to maximize how your body responds can make the difference between stagnation and transformation. So lets explore some facts and associated strategies you can use to your advantage if transformation is what you are after.
- Some People Can Handle Carbs Better Than Others
So how do you know if you do? The good news, this one is pretty obvious. If you’re overweight and your diet consists of a large amount of carbs, it is very likely that you do not handle carbs well. But lets not stop there, as this is really glossing over the issue. There are many more parameters at play here such as your activity level, your genetic makeup (which has a say in your body composition, but does not have the ultimate authority), your food intake (how much and what) and what else your diet consists of (do you eat mostly junk or eat a healthy balanced diet). The real answer to this question can only be answered by being your own detective. Try out some different things when it comes to carb intake (types, timing of consumption, quantity) and see what works best for you. Like I said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There is only what works best for you and that is what you should focus your efforts on.
2. Not All Carbs Are Created Equal
This relates back to the first point I made in this post about good and bad carbs. And while I don’t want to go so far as labeling anything good or bad (due to the aforementioned point) I would like to briefly discuss why all carbs are not created equal. Some carbs contain very little fiber and high amounts of sugar, which are great for immediate fuel sources, but bad if you are inactive or downright sedentary. These types of calorie dense, low nutrient carbs are the exact kind that our body likes to store as fat if we are not doing adequate activity to account for their consumption. We all pretty much know the types of carbs I am talking about here, the North American favorites such as bagels, chips, cookies and more. The types of foods that we feel great consuming in the moment, but later feel such guilt about having consumed. Then there are the low calorie, nutrient dense carbs that our body loves to not only use for fuel, but is also not as prone to store as fat, due to higher fiber content, making these carbs slower to digest, therefore using more energy to digest (yes, we burn calories while eating and burn more by eating nutrient dense, high protein foods). These are the healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, rice (white and brown) and fruit that we have heard time and time again are good for us. And while transformation requires paying attention to the types of carbs you put in your body, knowing a little bit about how carbs impact the body allows us to make better informed decisions about the types or carbs we choose to consume. If you can get to a point where you minimize the calorie dense, low nutrient carbs you consume, you can start down a path of health and fitness transformation.
3. Carbs Are Our Bodies Primary Fuel Source
Carbs are the most readily accessible fuel our body can use to, not only perform physical activity, but to sustain daily life. This is why it is critical to maintain some level of carbohydrate intake, regardless of your activity level. Yes, your level of activity dictates the amount of carbs your body needs (prefers really) to function, but carbs are not the enemy like we have made them out to be in recent years. There are some general rules of thumb you can use to determine the carb range you should be in and they are mostly centered around your activity level, but in less common cases, can also center around your body composition. The general rule is, the more active you are (i.e. the more intensely you exercise), the more carbs your body will need for not only fuel, but for recovery. Unbeknownst to some, fuel also pertains to recovery activities. The foods you eat have a role in your ability to recover from strenuous activity, injury or illness. Depriving your body of carbs during times of high intensity activity, serious injury or illness can have serious consequences on your ability to recover in a timely manner. Eat the right carbs at the right time according to your body’s physical needs and you won’t ever worry about them making you fat.
4. There Are Better Times Than Others to Eat Carbs
Now this one is a little tricky, as I have read a number of conflicting studies about this topic and different approaches when it comes to carb timing. So what I will say is, everyone is different and like point #1, you will have to do some detective work of your own to determine what works best for you. But timing of carbs is something you should play with if you are trying to transform your health and fitness. Some different scenarios you could try out would be as such:
- Carbs only in the morning
- Carbs only in the evening
- Carbs only around exercise (most being consumed post-exercise)
- Small amount of carbs at every meal
- Carbs only on days you are active
I list these different options only because many people have had success with one or more of these approaches. I know for me, timing my carbs around physical activity has proven to be a great strategy for my body type. But again, you only learn these things through trial and error. What works for one, does not work for all, and is something I always remind people of when they ask about magic bullets for health and fitness results. I am sorry to report there are no magic bullets. There is only learning your body and what works for you. These strategies have worked for many and one or more will likely work for you, if you are willing to do the work to find out which works best. Be diligent with your own health and fitness and you will see results. Get lazy and you will see what you have always seen.
5. Carbs Are Not Evil
I will leave you with this final thought. Even though it should be fairly obvious by now, let me reiterate, carbs are not the enemy. What is the enemy you might ask? Most likely, and most unfortunately, yourself. And why are you your own worst enemy? There are MANY reasons we become our own worst enemy when it comes to self-sabotage of your health and fitness goals, but for the sake of this week’s discussion, lets focus on the reasons centered around carbs and why they are not the enemy and we are.
- We lie to ourselves about the types and amounts of carbs we eat
- We lie to ourselves about how active we are, therefore eating unsubstantiated amounts of carbs
- Even with good intentions, we are prone to moments of weakness (we are human and this is natural) and all the best tasting foods somehow tend to be carbs
- We take an all or nothing approach which sets us up for the binge/purge cycle (which we discussed last week)
- Carbs are the simplest foods to reach for and in moments of laziness they become the default food source
This week, take a look at your approach to carb consumption or lack thereof and decide to become your own detective. Figure out the balance that works best for you to support a healthy, balanced life and adopt strategies that help eliminate the stress surrounding eating carbs.
Stronger with Carbs,