So…I want to talk about carbohydrates. The other day in my ED support group a few members were discussing fear foods, and carbs and grains were among the most feared across the entire group. Been there. Believe me. With all the hype out there about low carb, no carb, grain free, gluten free, blah blah blah, it’s no wonder there is confusion!
I lived a long time with very few carbs in my life. I remember going to dieticians and trainers and being told to eat more carbs. All I heard was “we want to get you fat!” I was tired, moody, and irrational for many years. Until not too long ago, I told Roberta (my fab dietician) that I was eating a little peanut butter or protein shake before a workout and was feeling really tired by the end of my sweat sesh, and sometimes couldn’t even finish. She gave me a quick nutrition lesson on the importance of carbs before a workout and I (begrudgingly) gave it a try. I couldn’t believe how much stronger and more focused I was throughout my workout with only an added banana or slice of toast ahead of time. It was pretty amazing, so I decided to do more research and started slowly adding more carbs into my diet. My muscles are happy, my brain (mostly) functions well, and my mood is considerably more stable. Oh, and I didn’t get fat. And I get to eat bread, pasta, beer…life is good.
I’m no dietician, but as a fitness professional, it is my responsibility to have a basic understanding of exercise metabolism. Here’s the deal in a nutshell: carbs are energy. Really effective and efficient energy. Our bodies need a constant supply of energy in order to use our brain and muscles for endurance and stamina. When carbs are metabolized in the body, the end product is called “glucose”. Glucose is either used as energy immediately, or stored (called glycogen). Glycogen can be broken down and used for energy during longer and/or more intense exercise. “Glycogen stores are a readily available source of energy to support the demands of physical activity and exercise. How quickly glycogen stores might be depleted depends on the duration and intensity of the exercise. For low intensity exercise (distance running etc.) glycogen stores can last as long as 90 minutes. For prolonged high intensity exercise, glycogen stores can provide energy for approximately 20 minutes” (source). Protein and fat are not able to used for immediate energy like carbs. Some research shows that energy from carbs can be released 3x faster than protein or fat.
Protein and fat are much more slowly absorbed by the body, meaning they are better at keeping us full and satisfied, but not so good at providing immediate energy. Carbs, on the other hand, are REALLY good at that. That’s why carbs are great before a workout and protein is great after to help repair and build muscles.
Also: “glucose is essential for the central nervous system. The brain primarily uses glucose as its energy source, and a lack of glucose can result in weakness, dizziness, and low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). Reduced blood glucose during exercise decreases performance and could lead to mental as well as physical fatigue” (source).
If you want strong, sexy muscles, you need to lift weights. If you want to lift weights, you need energy. If you want energy, you need carbs. Simple as that. Eat carbs. Go. Do it. Now.
I’m not sure what started the whole low carb frenzy, but the miracle weight loss as a result of low carb diets is water weight loss. That’s it. Sure, not all carbs are created equal. Whole grains, fruits, and starchy veggies are more fiber rich and provide more nutritional bang for your buck than white sugar. But seriously, stop fearing carbs. They’re delicious. Just like anything else that’s fabulous in this world, moderation is key.
THIS is a great article on Bodybuilding.com about the importance of carbohydrates for a fit body if you’re craving more info (or more carbs).
That’s it for me. I ate a giant bowl of oatmeal while writing this post, so you know it’s good!