Check out the video below, or read it all here…it’s everything I want my clients to know about carbohydrates.
Fun Fact: Veggies and Fruits are carbs. So when someone says they are on a low carb diet and eat nothing but veggies and fruits, that doesn’t really make sense (and it’s a huge pet peeve of mine).
Simple Vs. Complex Carbs
Simple carbs break down fast in our body, and are usually high calorie, low nutrient foods so it is best to limit them. A simple carb would be good after a taxing workout to quickly bring some energy back to your body, but only in moderation. You will see lots of bodybuilders who grab a handful of gummy bears after a workout for this reason.
Examples of Simple Carbs: Alcohol, fruits, milk, sweets, fried foods, soda and candy.
Complex carbs break down slower in your body, which help you to feel full longer. This group is mostly starchy vegetables or grains. Most are good source of fiber, which will help digestion.
Examples of Complex Carbs: Peas, beans, vegetables, wheat, rice, and oatmeal.
How Carbs Break Down
Carbs break down into glucose, which is stored sugar in the body. But did you know, all foods we eat in excess are stored as glucose in the body. This means that yes, just because you overindulged on sugar it will be stored in your body as sugar. But also, if you overindulge on steak, it will also be stored as sugar in your body. Glucose is our body’s reserve tank of energy.
Do Low Carb Diets Work?
Short answer NO, but here is why. Most carbohydrates are high in sugar and calories (think donuts, cakes, cookies, pasta, breads, and other examples listed above). When you cut out these calorie dense foods from your diet, you are almost sure to see an initial weight drop because you are putting your body into a calorie deficit, expending more calories than you are consuming. However, your body actually needs carbs to burn your stored fat. So after the initial weight loss (maybe a couple weeks or so), your body cannot shed anymore fat because it doesn’t have the tools (carbs) needed to do so. This is why it is important to include healthy options for carbs (like vegetables).
The Glycemic index was first popularized as a simple chart to help people with insulin related diseases like Diabetes. The chart assigns values to certain foods based on how slowly or quickly the food raises your blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are related to a plethora of problems, including increased cardiovascular risk. Not to say foods on the chart are “bad” or “good,” a long distance runner who needs quick energy could benefit from high glycemic foods, just as a diabetic should favor the slow digesting low glycemic foods. Here are some examples of each, pay attention to the numbers.
For most people, a target goal of 40-50% of your daily intake should be from carbohydrates. I encourage my clients to keep track of their food using the free app, My Fitness Pal. In the app, you can check your macronutrient percentages by clicking More>Nutrition>Macros. You can also customize macronutrient goals by clicking More>Goals>Calories, Carbs, Protein & Fat. Don’t forget, choose healthier carbs from the examples above to hit these goals, and maybe splurge after a hard workout with a simple sugar.