The good, the bad and the ugly of carbohydrates
–by Erika D White, Fitness Motivator & Creator of Fitzone
PUBLICATION DATE: JAN 2017
Carbohydrates, also referred to as carbs, play a vital role in maintaining a healthy diet. Completely eliminating this macronutrient can do more harm than good. The focus instead should be understanding how, what, and when carbs benefit your healthy lifestyle. Over the next few issues, we will be exploring the following power players of healthy eating: carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. This trio is more properly termed as macronutrients and is most identified with weight gain, weight loss, and even weight maintenance. Macronutrients, or macros, are simply a type of food needed in large amount by our bodies. Out of the three, carbohydrates are rated like a Mariah Carey performance; good, bad, or ugly.
The basic thought is cutting carbs equals weight loss (good) and eating carbs equals weight gain (bad). However, the real saboteur is not carbs at all. It is the consistent overeating and increased intake of artificial, refined, and laboratory-made foods. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy fueling our brain, circulatory system, and yes, our workouts. However, this macronutrient also serves another optimal function; it protects our muscles by providing glucose for energy. Carbs provide an immediate source of energy for physical and mental activity along with sustained energy for aerobic activity, including weight training. Carbohydrates protect our muscles from being catabolized by the body giving this protective, energizing macronutrient a rating surpassing post 2003 Mariah Carey, and hailing it as a powerhouse performer.
Two of a kind
To get a grasp on the carb conundrum, it is important to first examine the two classifications for carbs, simple and complex. This classification depends solely on the chemical structure of the food, the time it takes to be digested, and how quickly it is absorbed by the body. Simple carbohydrates are made up of one or two sugars while complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars. Yes, the difference is that simple (pun intended). Simple carbs deliver very few nutrients, are broken down by the body easily, and should be reduced or eliminated from your diet. Complex carbs contain nutrients from fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are the body’s preferred source of energy.
Processed foods and refined sugars, derived from simple carbs, are often referred to as “empty calories” which makes them the biggest contributor to weight gain. Beginning this month, commit to slowly eliminating processed foods and reducing simple carbs from your diet. Your reward will range from a dramatic increase of energy to a loss of stubborn body fat; your body will begin functioning at its optimum level. In a sense you are giving up carbs, but you are giving up the “right” ones.
Celebrations and life can push your willpower limits, so if you are ever in a situation where only sugary, simple carbs are available; eat a protein with it. This combination will help to slow down the sugar from being released into the bloodstream and can keep you moving toward your goals. If you need a list of simple and complex carbs to get started, begin with your doctor or send me an email and I will recommend some reputable websites for you to explore.
Grazing time matters
Eating a diet composed of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates helps ensure positive energy levels, exercise performance, mood, and overall function. Carb timing is also important to making sure that the body is not storing carbs as fat. Here a few suggestions that can maximize your graze time.
• Eat carbs the first thing in the morning: Your metabolic rate is higher and your body has been in a fasting state, which is optimal to the body’s efficient use of carbs.
• Eat carbs three to four hours before your workout or physical activity: This will provide your body with energy to replenish depleted glycogen from the workout and to prevent muscle loss.
• Eat carbs 45 to 60 minutes after your workout or physical activity: This is usually the biggest meal of the day. It should contain your largest carb serving for the day, combined with at least 20g of protein. Your body will readily absorb all the extra nutrients, especially the carbohydrates.
The suggested timing combined with physical activity increases your body’s ability to burn fat. It does not matter if your workout ends at 9 a.m. or 9 p.m., you definitely should be eating carbohydrates following your workouts. Not eating carbs after a certain time will not aid with long-term weight loss. Remember, it is when carbs are consumed that is the key to fat and weight loss not the time of day. Your body has its own timing system separate in determining if it is the right time to consume or burn energy.
Keep in mind that no matter how “good” a carbohydrate is, eating too much of it isn’t. Quantity matters just as much as quality. So incorporate your carbohydrates wisely. In the next issue, we will discuss the power of protein. Until then, keep it like Mariah; stay calm, make small changes, and sing for your supper.
Erika D. White is a certified fitness professional who believes in building strong, healthy, ageless men and women. Connect with Erika at ErikaWhite.net or every Tuesday at noon on 13abc’s Ask the Expert.
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. “Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism.” Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Pub Co. 2005.