Carbohydrates are my BFF?!
First of all, Carbohydrates are not bad. They do not make you fat. Even when you have them right before going to bed. Those are myths that mess with people’s mind and lead to crazy diets where one or more macros are left out.
I already talked about the effects of a low carb diet in my „Eat food to fuel your muscles“ post.
With carbs, it is all about the right timing and amount you eat.
When you have eaten a meal, the carbs are broken down into different kinds of sugars in the small intestine: Lactose, Galactose, Saccharose. These are converted to Glucose, the simplest form of sugar, in our intestine cells and then get into our blood system. From there, Glucose has access to all our cells. Glucose is used to synthesize ATP, which is the energy equivalent in our body. Without ATP, our cells would die because they lack fuel for essential metabolic processes.
Thus, Glucose is important to fuel our cells and provide our body energy.
What happens in the body when we eat carbs?
At first, our pancreas secrets Insulin, which is a hormone that is needed to transport Glucose into our cells. Insulin has many other effects too though: Most important is the increase of protein synthesis, decrease of fat oxidation (fat burning) and gluconeogenesis (building Glucose out of fat/carbs storage). Thus, Insulin is great for building muscle but also for gaining fat.
To minimize fat gain, we need to consume our carbs at times our body is the most sensitive for them. This would be in the morning and after your workout. In the morning, our body is in a fasted state and blood sugar is very low. Also, after our workout, the glycogen stores in our muscles and liver are nearly empty. If you eat carbohydrates post workout, they will be used to fill those stores and help with muscle recovery and not stored as fat.
Also, it is important to have carbohydrates before your workout to provide the body enough energy. Try weight lifting without eating carbs before and you will understand what I mean. You will feel weak, lack motivation and will not be able to properly engage all muscles. You cut out the carbs to lose weight but as a result you end up burning fewer calories with your workout because you lack energy. That is not going to help you achieving your goals.
I should mention that when I talk about carbohydrates, I mean mostly the starchy kind. Rice, bread, potatoes, pasta. Vegetables are carbohydrates too, but they have such high fiber and water content that they do not trigger any Insulin secretion at all!
While Fruits contain sugar, they also have a very high water content, so the Insulin secretion is not as high as with starchy carbohydrates. Most of the time, I eat a serving of fruit in the morning and another as a snack in the afternoon. They provide our body with essential vitamins (no supplements needed!) and keep our blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day. Still, you should watch your portion sizes with fruits too.
Read more about the nutritional values of vegetables and fruits in Miranda’s post.
What about rest days?
On days you do not work out or only do cardio, it seems to be logical to cut out the carbohydrates, right? If you are in the fitness path, I am sure you heard the term „Muscles are teared down in the gym and built in the kitchen and bed“. On your recovery days, your metabolism increases because of the high intensity training you did the day before. Your body is trying to repair your muscles and needs fuel for that.
On resting days, I spread out the carbohydrates evenly throughout the day. I have one meal that consists only of protein and fat and vegetables.
If you track your macros, never go below 100-120g of carbohydrates. Typically on a resting day, I eat around 150-170g of Carbohydrates total (with vegetables). I do not track my macros daily, but when I do, I stay around those numbers.
Spreading out your carbohydrates prevents a big Insulin secretion in the pancreas and thus decreases the chance of gaining fat.
My favorite sources of Carbohydrates:
- All kinds of vegetables: No limits here, eat as many as you can
- Fruits: 2 servings per day. Fruits contain a lot of sugar, which triggers Insulin secretion as well!
- Starchy: brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, black rice, whole wheat bread (without sugar), Rice cakes (made out of brown rice or quinoa), Potatoes, Sweet Potatoes, Oats
additional nutritional tips:
- Never eat starchy carbohydrates alone! Always include a protein source. This slows down digestion, thus it takes more time for the carbs to be broken down into Glucose and leads to fewer Insulin secretion!
- Have a big serving of starchy carbohydrates in the evening. Starchy carbs increase Leptin levels, which decreases hunger, and Serotonin, which makes you happy and helps with sleep. If you feel like you need something to relax after working all day, instead of opening a bottle of bear (or eating a whole bar of chocolate), eat your carbs. You will feel the effect right away.
- Read the labels: Many breads contain sugar and artificial preservatives. This is the reason why I cut out all bread for 2 years. I finally purchased a bread making machine and bake my own bread now.
I hope you enjoyed this post on carbohydrates. Let me know if you have additional questions or suggestions!