The TRUTH About Carbs

By now you all know I promote tracking macros and flexible dieting. It’s no secret and I will do everything I can go continue to educate my clients, members, and friends about knowing more about the food we put into our body. That being said, there is stigma among the community I mostly work with (many of which come from a Paleo background) of carbs being bad! Many people call them “The Devil”; I call them “Human Gasoline”, with each gram yielding 4 calories. I might shock you with this…but…guess what? Humans require energy to live. (gasp!) When we engage in activities that require energy (like living), carbs provide that energy. Somewhere along the way, we’ve built up this belief system that carbs aren’t needed and the only way to get to fat loss is by eliminating them or eating a super low amount (<50g daily).

I am not saying that you should go to McDonald’s and slam three Big Macs and a liter of soda just because it fits your daily macros. Obviously, it’s better to plan your diet around good, macronutrient and micronutrient-rich healthy foods. However, if you need to have that pint of ice cream or something else you have been craving, you may fit that into your daily macronutrients and not have it negatively affect your body composition.

So let’s take a deeper look. A carb or carbohydrate is simply a fancy nutrition term for sugar. Yes, technically a piece of bread, a donut, and a sweet potato all have the same composition; they are all broken down the same by our bodies and turned into glucose. By no means am I suggesting you choose McDonalds French fries over rice or sweet potatoes but it’s important to know how our bodies use carbs for the sake of this post. They are essentially the same end result.

Our bodies needs such macronutrients like carbohydrates to provide a source of fuel such as glucose. If not available, guess what macro our body takes instead? Muscle tissue! Strength training and anaerobic activity uses glucose almost exclusivly for energy through a process referred to as glycolysis. Anaerobic metabolism prefers to run on glucose, not on fat. If your body doesn’t have glycogen to use during a workout, your body automatically takes from amino acids as a back up. Add in the fact that your workouts are high intensity and you’ll likely just have depleted some muscle tissue (aka muscle loss). Oh and did I mention? Your workouts will blow? Low-carb diets usually mean: you don’t have enough glycogen to handle the necessary requirements for performance (strength, speed, agility, coordination, power, etc). Lastly, long-term carb depletion damages a healthy, functioning metabolism, and is often the reason for post-diet weight gain. It’s sad, but the non-sugar coated truth.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here but I’m also a fan of refeed days or adding in a higher carb day for those that have been on a caloric deficit for some time. The high carb day will tell your body you are not dieting anymore, and some of those hormones that we need to burn fat will start to rise again. (Hello leptin)! This works because your body likes homeostasis, and you are constantly changing a large variable here, leaving your body reacting in order to seek equilibrium. Another good reason to have a high carb day is to replenish muscle glycogen. I’m happy to work with folks individually if they would like coaching on deficit/maintenance programs and refeed days.

Back To carbs.

Carbs unfortunately, have a very bad rap sheet. If you are on a good nutrition plan and are consuming the proper grams of protein, no carb that is within your goal range will make you gain weight. It just won’t happen. If you are lifting weights or doing CrossFit (or similar), you can likely even make room for the “naughty carbs” aka #carbsafterdark aka sugar (within reason). The reason being, carbs are broken down into simple and complex forms. Simple carbs are fast digesting and easily broken down for immediate energy use. Simple carbs are more commonly known as sugar. Complex carbs are substantially more difficult for our bodies to digest. They are broken down gradually and released into the bloodstream at a slower place. I devote plenty of time in my training programs with clients on food choices and how to pick the right carb source for yourself based on many factors. (Some of which are: activity, training time, caloric needs, convenience and lastly, cravings).

Long story short. When it comes to training and nutrition, understanding the truth about carbohydrates and macronutrients can make all the difference in reaching your fitness goals. For the love of carbs, eat ’em, please!

NourishSara Nelson