Whenever health and fitness are brought up, the conversation inevitable turns to talking about carbs. Whether it’s talking about the latest fads on tv, new diets discussed and talked about in magazines, carbs are almost always seen as this devilish thing that we all love to eat but is secretly bad for you and is destroying your fitness goals. Or is it? Let’s talk about what carbs are, how they can potentially derail your fitness goals, and how to use them to your advantage to further boost your health.
What are carbs?
Carbs, short of carbohydrates, are one of the nutrients are bodies use for energy. Carbs are found in a lot of foods including cereals, bread, potatoes, fruits, chips, and table sugar. Carbohydrates make up much of the building blocks of our body. Cellulose, the walls of our cells, are carbohydrates. Glycogen, produced in the liver, is a naturally occurring carbohydrate. Carbohydrates help us keep a healthy digestive system.
What’s so bad about them?
Are carbs actually bad? It depends. Carbs in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, they are one of the three branches of nutrients your body needs to grow. But there are certain foods that we can classify as bad carbs. These are foods high in refined sugar and low and fiber like cookies and syrupy drinks. Think about it, when’s the last time you are a whole bag of potato chips by yourself? These are the carbs that are unhealthy and make you gain weight.
Ok so if not all carbs are bad, then what’s about simple versus complex carbs? Simple must be bad!
Close but not quite. Simple carbs have a high glycemic index, meaning they will spike your blood sugar levels. Comparatively, complex carbohydrates absorb into the system more slowly. But are all simple carbs bad? Not quite. Fruit is also a simple carb but these aren’t bad for you and can provide your body with precious nutrients. By focusing on complex carbs high in fiber, you’ll stay fuller longer and reduce your cravings. So make some quinoa with your meal and you’ll feel less impulse to eat a bag of barbecue potato chips.
There’s also an issue regarding energy. There are some diet schools of thought, such as ketogenesis and even to some extent Atkins, which says the body can’t process carbs effectively to maximize the amount of energy that you would get from eating. As a result, our bodies need more carbs to get more energy when there are other food sources that our bodies could more efficiently process for energy. These diets stress the body entering a state of ketogenesis, where it burns fat for energy instead of carbs. Some nutritionists don’t support these sort of diets as they can be unsustainable.
How do I make carbs work for me?
Glad you asked. There are many ways to adjust your carb intake to best suit your fitness goals and lifestyle. The main thing to remember is that carbs are just like any other food group. If you eat more than the amount of calories you burn, you will gain weight. Therefore, it’s important to remember to eat carbs that are filling, full of fiber, and reduce cravings. Try to stay away from heavily processed carbs full of sugar. Instead of white rice, try using brown or substitute quinoa. Stick to darker grains instead of white ones to notice a difference. The taste may take a while to become acquired, but after a period of eating them you may find yourself preferring the fiber heavy complex carbs. And best of all, you’ll find yourself fuller throughout the day. If you’re already active, don’t shy away from carbs. Carbs provide us energy so don’t be afraid to eat them. Carb loading, eating a carb-heavy meal such as pasta, before an endurance event is not only common but practical. Carbs can help us perform to be the best we can be. Just remember moderation and to seek out the healthier alternatives.