Whether you're starting a new workout routine, getting back into it, or been at it for awhile, one thing is certain; you've got to fuel your body properly to reap the benefits of all of that hard work.
As you may have gathered by now, the messaging on the best way to do this is conflicting and misleading at best, and some of it is just downright wrong and scary. While like with anything else we discuss here, there are nuances and variables to consider, we'd like to use this opportunity to discuss the potential pitfalls of eliminating an entire macronutrient from your diet to reach your goals.
Today we're taking a look at carbohydrates. This information is for educational purposes only, and one such nuance/variable to consider here is in the case of specific sugar handling diagnoses, such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Be sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting a new diet.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and fat) that our bodies require to function properly. When looking at each of these fuel sources, there are different processes involved in the uptake and breakdown of each; but carbohydrates, further broken down into glucose, serve as your bodies primary source of fuel. Fascinatingly, the body does have other pathways to produce glucose in addition to breaking it down from carbohydrates. Some folks use this as part of their advocacy for low carb diets, but unfortunately one such way the body creates more glucose for energy is by turning to glycogen stored in the muscle. This can result in muscle wasting if those stores are not adequately filled and replenished with carbohydrates.
Especially in the case of starting any new exercise program, or following an exercise program that involves high intensity activity, it'd be wise to NOT try cutting carbs at the same time. The body is actually more likely to use fatty acids as energy during lower intensity exercise (think 60-69% heart rate zone, a brisk walk), and as intensity increases, so does the use of glucose for energy. Something to consider when you look at your own workouts, and how your carbohydrate intake can best support your goals.
To be clear, not all carbs are created equal. It's best to opt for complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which are packed with fiber and nutrients, and take a bit more time to digest and break down. Avoid simple carbs like sugary drinks and processed foods, which can cause blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving you tired and sluggish.
It's also important to balance your carb intake with adequate amounts of healthy fat and protein. Even complex carbohydrates, when eaten on their own, can lead to the dreaded blood sugar roller coaster. As the primary fuel source, it's also the quickest one, meaning your body uses it up for energy easily, leading to the sugar crash. One general rule of thumb to help keep blood sugar stable throughout the day is to pair your carbohydrate with a quality source of protein and/or fat. You may also want to stick to one serving, and one source of carbs at a time, spaced out evenly across the day to help keep sugar levels consistent throughout the day.
Fun fact. Did you know we begin digesting carbohydrates in the mouth? Salivary amylase+the mechanical breakdown of carbohydrates by chewing is the first step on a cascade of events involved in carb digestion. Obviously, we think it's a good idea to chew all of your food. But especially when it comes to complex carbs, make sure you're getting 20-30 chews per bite! And, if you've ever found that you get bloated or experience GI distress after something like a fruit smoothie, this could be part of it. Smoothies are often jam packed with complex carbohydrates, but if they're blended down to a liquid, you miss step one of the digestion process. If this is you, try adding some granola, nuts or seeds and get to chewin', see if it helps.
Want another solid reason why we think you should keep carbs in your diet? They taste good! No diet is sustainable if it isn't satiating, if you feel you have to sacrifice all of the foods that you actually enjoy eating. It's not a matter of completely eliminating all carbs, rather making well-informed and tactful decisions about the how/what/when and where of it, and ultimately develop a deeper understanding of how certain foods make you feel. When you start to notice things like, 'oh that large coke actually made me feel crazy and then exhausted later on', or 'I felt way better eating an apple with almond butter instead of that scone for an afternoon pick me up', it becomes much easier to stay committed to your diet. You're driving your decisions. You're understanding why you're eating what you're eating, when and how—not just because someone else told you it's the latest diet trend.
Stay curious, keep asking questions, and keep searching for what works best for you, and if you're ready to take that next step towards a stronger, fitter, healthier you, click the link below and sign up for a Free 14 Day Trial at our facility!