Carbs as the enemy – fact or myth?
Carbohydrates have acquired a very bad reputation recently and many blame the obesity epidemic on the high consumption of carbs and sugar. They are one of the basic food groups and can be divided into sugar, starches and fiber. Carbohydrates are broken down in our bodies into glucose and then used for energy. Unused glucose is stored in the body mainly in the liver and as fat tissue.
Types of Carbs
There are two types of carbs – simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates refer to sugars, with a simple molecular construction of one or two parts. Due to such a simple build the body quickly generating an energy spike followed by a low can process these. We all know this as the ‘sugar crash’. Most processed foods contain sugar which has little nutritional value (with a few exceptions we will talk about later). Unfortunately, this combined with huge amounts of saturated fat is the main ingredient of the modern western diet – hence the obesity and heart issues. Sugar can be found in sodas, fruit and fruit juices, candy, white bread and pasta etc. Not all simple carbs are bad, for example fruit and dairy should be an integral part of a balanced diet and they provide fiber and protein as well as vitamins. For people who train regularly, carbohydrates and carbohydrate supplements can be an excellent source of energy and matched with good timing they help burn fat and build muscle.
Complex carbohydrates refer to sugars with a complex molecular structure of three or more parts; due to the complex structure of these molecules it takes the body longer to break them down to glucose and because of it the glucose levels in the bloodstream steady. The energy lasts for a longer period of time which means we don’t ‘crash’ and it can be used up throughout the day rather than stored as fat. Complex carb sources include whole grains, whole meal bread,cereals, oats, pasta, brown rice ,etc.
You may have heard the term ‘Glycemic Index’ before. This is simply a measure that tells you how quickly the glucose is released into the bloodstream. High GI foods are the simple carbs – released quickly and spiking blood sugar levels and low GI are the complex, slow processed ones. For fit, active individuals, both are important and if used correctly they can benefit the health, performance and physique.
Consume carbs wisely
Of course, unnecessary amounts of carbohydrates just like any other type of food in excess will make you fat. But there are multiple reasons why carbs actually help with weight loss and fat burning as well as promoting muscle gain.
Researchers followed the eating habits of middle-aged women for nearly two years and found that those who increased their fiber intake generally lost weight. Women who decreased the fiber in their diets gained. Many complex carbohydrates contain dietary fiber which we can’t digest but it helps us feel full and keep the digestive system in check.
During exercise, carbohydrates stored in the muscles as glycogen are broken down into glucose and released to the muscle for energy. If your workouts are intense you will need carbs for energy. If you prefer to eat a few hours before your workout – choose complex carbs and if you choose a pre-workout meal (around 1 hr before) opt for simple carbs that will hit your bloodstream quick. This is a scenario where the sugar will not be stored as fat but used to build muscle. Choose a fruit or a carb drink to avoid stuffing yourself before training. After a strenuous bodybuilding style workout you will have depleted around 30 percent glycogen from your muscles. You may want to replenish that with another small serving of high GI carbs post workout.
When you decrease your carbohydrate intake for too long on a low-calorie diet, your thyroid and the hormones it controls can be impacted. Since certain thyroid hormones regulate your rate of metabolism – the amount of daily energy you spend at rest – your results will slow or stall completely. Carbohydrates store water, so don’t be fooled by the fact that you ‘lose’ a lot of weight without them, you simply lose water.
Whether you choose a low- or high – carb diet keep in mind two main principles: to lose fat you need to count calories and choose healthy, unprocessed foods – carbs or no carbs!