I remember being scared of carbs from a very young age.
In second grade I once saw a girl in the lunch line grab a giant blueberry muffin and I vividly remember having a mini panic attack on her behalf.
I hadn’t had any bad experiences with carbs myself…I had just heard from everyone around me that too much bread was bad.
In my teens I became an avid runner; some weeks I logged over 40 miles.
I only felt I could eat carbs if I ran at least 8 miles a day.
Obsessing over carbs every day was normal.
At the same time, fearing carbs was my lifestyle.
Maybe you can relate.
I avoided carbs at all costs and could do this quite well when my confidence was soaring, motivation high, my schedule manageable and sleep in check.
In theory and in practice this was a *very* poor decision.
After a few days of strict carb restriction brownies would literally jump into my hands.
I’m not saying I gave in and ate some toast, I’m talking like, I ate a sheet of brownies and then tortilla chips.
As we all know you and I both know, crushing brownies and chips is not ideal; I was tired of the restrict then binge cycle, so I eventually decided I would in fact eat a reasonable amount of carbs– but only in the morning.
I figured I could eat them all in the morning because I had the whole day to burn them off.
Fear was still lurking.
But then came another problem with only consuming carbs in the morning: I would over eat them because I was scared of not being “allowed” to have them… at all… the rest of the day.
I had a warped sense about carbs because they had been demonized and idealized in the media and continue to be today.
So many people worry about carbs and I don’t want you to be one of them.
What’s the Truth About Carbs? What should you know?
Carbs do not make you fat.
When I started lifting weights in 2012 and felt *miserable* without carbs. I realized carbs were nonnegotiable.
Lifting without carbs made me feel less energetic, more stressed and in essence, the meanest version of myself.
Coincidentally, about the same time I was ready to give up the low carb life I found an awesome organic, gluten free (GF), pizza place in Chicago.
So, I decided to give carbs a shot.
I started eating pizza at this amazing place once a week, throwing in the towel on my low carb lifestyle.
Every morning after pizza night I felt *better.* I realized I needed the carbs; I should avoid them and they wouldn’t make me fat.
My body began using the carbs to help refuel my muscles. And I didn’t get fat; I got leaner.
I decided to make carbs a bigger part of my diet in a moderate amounts.
But then I begged the question… which carbs should I eat?
The secret: there is not a single *best* carb for fat loss.
Rather, there are ways to find what specific carb sources *feel* better for your digestive system and are sustainable in your everyday nutrition.
It is *very* important to figure out what carbs work for you because they can assist in your fat loss journey.
In order to figure out what carbs are best for you, follow this equation:
· Name a carb source that you enjoy eating. (Examples: any rice, whole grain pasta, fruit, quinoa, potato or root).
· Name a carb source that does not trigger you to overeat it in large sums.
· Subtract the carb sources that upset your stomach when you digest them.
· Consider the carb sources that you can *eat with a purpose.*
· Subtract the carb sources you cannot realistically prepare often.
= YOUR CARB.
Before I go over how you can find the best carb(s) for fat loss, let’s quickly hash out why people think carbs are bad.
First we need to discuss weight loss vs. fat loss.
The media says carbs make you fat.
Some people then decide to eliminate carbs from their diet and quickly see rapid weight loss on the scale.
Seeing the number drop on the scale only reinforces in their mind that carbs make them fat and they begin to fear carbs even more.
They think they are losing weight by reducing carbs. And they are– they are losing water weight.
If carbs are a main source within your diet, when you cut carbs drastically the number on the scale will go down because cutting carbs results in water loss.
Carbs store three to four grams of water per one gram of carb.
This is why when you cut carbs you lose water weight; no carbs are hanging around for water molecules to latch onto… so when your weight drops on a low carb spurt, you will be losing water weight and not necessarily fat.
Do carbs make you bloated?
Well, if you eat little to no carbs all week and then eat a TON of carbs on the weekend, you *will* feel bloated because out of nowhere you will retain a great amount of water.
Consuming carbs in moderation on a regular basis will help avoid this up and down, bloated, un-bloated cycle, and also help you perform well in the gym.
Beyond giving you energy, carbs have a serious role in your hormonal function.
For example, carbs increase a hormone called leptin, signaling that you are fueled and satiated. Serotonin is also increased after carb intake making you feel satisfied while boosting your mood.
See, carbs aren’t bad.
As you can see, they actually have a lot of benefit within your day-to-day life.
But if carbs don’t make you fat, what does?
The only way to gain fat is to eat more calories than you need.
When you emphasize carbs or include them in your diet, do you tend to over eat them? If so, you may be eating more then you need which leads to fat gain.
Steps to find the best carb for fat loss:
1) What carbs do you enjoy eating?
When it comes to fueling your body in general, you should enjoy what you are eating.
While I am a proponent of trying different foods and being adventurous with your palate, you can only take that so far.
You will never find success by way of consistent action if you don’t enjoy the process.
What do you enjoy… besides the breadbasket items?
Are you the kind of person who likes a sandwich or someone who prefers some form of potatoes with their meat?
Maybe you love fruit?
Truly take a moment and jot down the carbs you eat on a regular basis.
Look at your list.
Are some of them things you love to eat?
Are some of them things you eat because you think you’re supposed to eat them?
Is anything packaged? If so, CHECK THE NUTRITION LABEL and see the nutritional breakdown (calories, protein, carbs, fat, fiber, etc) to make an informed decision based on everything – NOT just total carbs.
Now make a new list of the carbs that you like; list ones which you think you would enjoy eating on a regular basis.
To give you some ideas, here’s a brief list of some whole food carb options:
If you would like a PDF of the chart I made above, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eating Foods You Enjoy Is Paramount for Long-Term Success.
The other day a client asked me if she was required to eat sweet potatoes in her #daretoeat nutrition program because she doesn’t like them.
She followed up the question by saying, “It’s okay if I have to eat them to lose weight; I want to give this 100%.”
I told her I would never make her choke down something she didn’t like eating; nor is this one source of carbohydrate better for her than another.
It is important to eat things that fulfill you not just physiologically but also emotionally because if your mind is happy and your stomach is happy you will see much greater success.
2) Name the carbs that you won’t over eat.
Before I figured out what carbs to eat, I considered my past experiences with certain foods.
High school was a battle with carbs. I learned the *best* strategies to avoid carbs in high school and all of those carried over to college.
Back then I was reading as much as I could about carbs and scouring labels to see how many carbs were in my favorite foods once I realized carbs were more than just pieces of bread.
Peas! Peas had carbs. Everything had carbs, or so it seemed.
On my low-carb kick in high school, I also gave up eating toast because I could not be moderate with it.
Give me one piece of toast and I wanted five more.
Back then, I was bad at portion control with oats too. I remember pouring a tiny portion of oats, eating them, and then making another tiny portion (two more times!).
Every time I found myself eating carbs I couldn’t help but eat too many of them.
But instead of realizing I was simply eating too much, I blamed carbs for my lack of progress.
What carbs do you like to eat that do not trigger you to go over board?
Important note: going all week without carbs and saving them for once a week can be dangerous if you are an ‘all or nothing’ type of person. You may be at risk for going overboard. Being too strict and then viewing your more starchy meat as a cheat meal is may not lead to success.
Change your mindset: carbs are not something to *cheat* with. They are something with which to re-fuel.
Carbs are *crucial.*
The sooner you get over the fear, the less likely you are to overeat them. It will be easier to stay in control of them as soon as you see them as any other food.
Get over the guilt, commit to eating them moderately on a consistent basis, and large binges will not happen.
3) How do you digest carbs?
Consider how you digest these carb sources on their own before you decide if you like them or not.
Eat a whole, plain sweet potato, a banana, or some rice before adding any extras (butter, oil, seasoning, etc) and take note of how you feel.
Do you feel digestive pains?
Are you gas-y?
Do you feel sluggish or nauseous?
One other thing to consider is whether or not you experience a sugar high followed by a crash.
Some high carb, high glycemic foods can lead to a spike in energy followed by a crash.
Take notice of your energy– are you bouncing off the walls or feeling exhausted?
Looking back, I think I enjoyed being low carb because I never worried about being sensitive to various grains. It was initially less stressful. Experimenting with different carbs wasn’t always fun on my digestive system.
However, it *is* important to try various sources because having go-to carbs that make you feel full and content are crucial, especially if you lift weights often.
4) Eating carbs with a purpose
If your goal is fat loss, you are probably frequenting the gym along with paying attention to your nutrition.
In order to workout, your body needs energy and carbs are the most readily available energy source.
Consider a vending machine or street food: you pay money and you have a meal, zero preparation required.
That’s how carbs are in the body; they are fast-acting fuel.
While the body can run on energy from fat or protein, less processing must be done when it uses carbs.
In fact, when carbs are low the body can dip into fat stores for energy.
However there is no hierarchy for what comes first between the muscles or fat when the body needs to use stored energy. It will use glycogen from the muscles or fat stores.
While you *can* workout without many carbs, you’ll probably feel like crap. If you don’t feel like crap for a few weeks, after being without carbs for a month your performance will almost certainly drop.
Part of the reason the hungry feeling on low carb can be so uncomfortable is because when you are low on glucose it affects everything–including your brain.
Some people describe a foggy feeling and severe changes in mood.
You know what I am talking about.
Ever been hAngry?
I can get hAngry even when I am low on carbs, but not calories.
When I am hAngry I want carbs so badly I end up eating more than I need.
The difference between hungry and hAngry is *mindfulness.*
When you are hungry you know we need to eat so you start to plan; you take a step back and think about what you will eat when you have access to food or time to get or make a meal.
When you are hAngry you are ravenous, grabbing for whatever you can reach–whatever soothes the craving and most often, foods that are high-carby and will “comfort” you.
After considering how carbs can boost mood and fuel a workout, plan to eat them *around* your training schedule.
So, when will you be training?
If you are new to strength training, consider adding two strength workouts to your week. More advanced and consistent with exercise, try four days a week.
Now, if you have a consistent training schedule, (i.e.Monday, Wednesday, Friday) you should plan to consume more carbs on the days you are lifting weights but be sure to not go over how many calories your body needs in general.
A NOTE ON TRAINING: Strength training is an integral part of the fat loss journey. While you can lose fat without strength training, you may get faster results when frequenting the gym and using some iron.
If you would like to be considered for my online training program, apply HERE
How many carbs should you be eating on a training day?
It varies person to person. I myself have experimented with this… a lot.
I have done super low carb lifestyle with refuels one day a week; I have done a high carb raw vegan lifestyle, etc; however moderation is the best for me.
On days I lift I eat from 150 grams to 250 grams of carbs. Lately it’s been more around 200 grams.
On days off lifting I am between 75-150 grams. Lately it’s been around 125g.
The above is *just* an example. Different people need varying amounts of carbs and there is no way to say carbs or fat are better for you. Both fat and carb macronutrients are important.
But if the goal is fat loss, calories and protein need to be top priorities.
How many carbs should you eat?
– If you are lifting weights you will want to try and consume more carbs before and after you lift.
-This means eating one starchy carb at each meal and one serving of a starch with protein after you workout.
-On days you don’t lift weights you may one to have two to three servings of carbs throughout the day.
Figuring out how many carbs to eat takes time and depends on the person. You have to try it out, or guess and check, if you will.
In my opinion, if you consume them in moderation, regularly, you will feel energized, perform well and refuel your muscles.
Increased strength = more muscle = ability to get leaner and stay leaner.
If you stress the muscles through weight training, the glycogen stores in the muscles and liver are depleted. When you refuel with carbs and protein, you will be re-storing what needs help repairing itself; not packing pounds onto your hips.
Carbs do the opposite of making you gain fat, if you use them correctly.
You know now how carbs affect your mood, that they fuel your body and that it is important to have more on days you strength train.
It’s not so much a game of carbs turning to fat as it is carbs being used as energy/fuel or being *stored* for later use.
So how do you find the balance and eat with a purpose (of refueling)?
Honestly, it takes a lot of time, trials and errors and it depends on your schedule.
Tip: choose a carb or carbs that *do* pair well with a protein source. After you lift it is ideal to consume carbs *with* some protein. Example: if you really like chicken for protein, a banana may not be the best carb– unless you like that combo.
Now, you have a list of carbs you like and you have tentative training schedule, next we make a plan.
5) What is realistic?
Refer back to your list.
Does it have items that take a while to be prepared?
Let’s say your top three carb choices are butternut squash mashed up, quinoa salad and oats.
What if you travel for work once a week or every other week? Are those carb sources easy to transport or find on the go?
Is it easy to prepare after a long day at the office?
Avoid coming home just to grab the most reachable bag of processed something in the cabinet.
Avoid eating chicken and eggs without carbs all day just to wake up and go to the gym under-carbed the next morning.
Plan like you schedule your work day.
What carbs for breakfast? Any?
If not, what carbs for lunch?
Ask yourself, “Am I training today?”
“What can I grab before/after my workout that has carbs and protein?”
I like to come up with a list of go-to carbs for my busy schedule.
The best way for me to stay on track is to have various options prepared in the fridge at all times.
If you want a sample of Sunday carb prep, sign up for my newsletter and you will be the first to receive my FREE ebook with and entire chapter geared towards meal preparation.
In the ebook I take you through ways to meal prep carbs for a week and list examples of places to find carbs on the go!
Eat what you enjoy in realistic, moderate amounts.
Do not think that eating one sandwich will make you fat from the bread, because that is not the case.
But also, don’t go run and eat a whole pizza or order a sandwich with an extra side of bread, chips and fries after reading this.
Eat carbs so that your workouts are well fueled, your blood sugar stays consistent, your body stays hydrated and the muscles can build and repair after a tough training session.
I attribute being the best version of myself to carbs. With carbs, I perform better; and being proud of my progress in the gym makes me the happiest!
Never forget the big picture: You *will* gain weight if you are eating more calories than you consume.
Eating carbs in general is important for your performance, regulating your hormones, and making you *feel* energized. Eating one carb source over another in the same moderate amount will not make or break your nutrition goals.