Carbohydrates are a controversial topic that’s for sure. In the media you will hear every Tom, Dick and Harry give an opinion on them –
. All carbohydrates are the same (that’s a sweet potato or bag of sweets!)
. Carbohydrates make you fat (no carbs before Marbs anyone?)
. You can’t have carbs after 6PM (6PM specifically by the way. . . .)
. Carbohydrates are the only energy source the body can use (clearly fats weren’t invented then. . . .)
. Wholegrain carbs are ‘’guilt free’’ and therefore you can eat as many as you want provided they have the Holy Grail badge on then, whole grain. (Really, some ‘’slimming’’ organisations promote this)
The list goes on. I extend my sincere apologies for the sarcasm which accompanied each statement above but I just cannot help it. The fitness industry really has reached a point where complete and utter tripe goes under the radar, no one questions it and as a result it reaches massive audiences who embrace it. Guess what? They then suffer with the associated issues both physically and mentally (more on this in other articles) and they even pass this advice on to their mates before they realise what is really happening. This is of course tragic.
So what is the truth? Let me break that down for you in 4 easy to digest points. Here we go – the truth about carbs in 4 points.
1 – Who is asking?
The first thing we need to address is glucose tolerance which is heavily related to insulin resistance/sensitivity. Each of us will be different. Let me use two examples to provide a little more clarity.
Person A – born skinny, can eat chocolate all day long without ever gaining weight. Their glucose tolerance and in turn insulin health is GREAT! They would be described as highly insulin sensitive and glucose tolerant. Simple really, they ‘’tolerate’’ glucose (and carbohydrates are the most direct form of glucose).
Person B – born more prone to holding body fat, if they go through a phase of eating a lot of carbs it will show on their waistline. Their glucose tolerance and insulin health isn’t so good. They would be described as insulin resistant.
As you can see, carbs are some people’s friends and have the potential to be the enemy for others. The higher your body fat the more insulin resistant you will be. The leaner you are the more insulin sensitive you will be.
Insulin explained – when we ingest carbohydrates a certain quantity of insulin is produced and secreted from the pancreas into the blood. It acts as a transporter of glucose so it can be utilised as energy. However, if you are insulin resistant what happens when you eat carbs is that the insulin secreted becomes less and less. As a result we have glucose left in the blood without insulin present which means it is harder to utilise it as energy. Unless there is an immediate need for the glucose the chances of it being stored as fat is greatly heighted. Insulin resistance can be reversed over time which is what this plan will help you achieve!
2 – All carbs are not equal!
Based on the fact the reason we pay special attention to carbohydrates is due to their effect on insulin we believe all carbs are not created equal.
There are times when we want carbohydrates to have a more aggressive effect on insulin production than others. The thing is, insulin is the most anabolic hormone in the body therefore we love it. It just needs to be treated with respect. There are also times where we don’t want insulin levels to become elevated (much anyway).
The glycemic load of a meal dictates to what extent our insulin production is stimulated. This means that each piece of food on the plate will play a role, not just the carbohydrates. For example, white potato on its own with chicken breast would have quite a high glycemic load. To increase it we would add some honey in there (sugary carbs generally cause a more aggressive insulin response apart from fructose!!). In contrast, to mitigate the insulin response we would add some fats in there maybe with some whole eggs for example (fats will blunt the insulin response of a meal to an extent because they slow down the time in which a meal is absorbed).
With that said, we manipulate meals to get the desired response form the meal depending on what time of the day it is.
The carbohydrates we should use most of the time come from the earth and are what we call single ingredient foods. Sweet potato, white potato, oats, rice and the likes of are generally top of the list here. We don’t include much fruit apart from berries (more on that another time).
We should tend to avoid processed carbohydrates for the most part because a lot of them are quite frankly evil. Anything containing fructose corn syrup (which is very different to naturally occurring fructose in fruit!) is on the banned list 95% of the time. We do allow for treats, after all it is a lifestyle. However for the most part we don’t want things like this in our diet.
3 – Of course it matters when!
There are many people who will tell you it doesn’t matter when you consume carbs provided that they fit within your daily calorie and macro targets. I disagree strongly! I have time and time again helped clients who previously couldn’t shift body fat simply by paying more attention to their carbohydrate timing and in turn improving insulin sensitivity. It isn’t the only variable, of course. However it is a very relevant one.
When we lift weights we instantly create a greater need for glucose and we are also equipped better to deal with glucose. 4 – Cycling carbs means what exactly?
Carb cycling simply means increasing carbs for a given day (and simultaneously removing fat for the day and reducing protein).
In doing so we are going to stimulate the metabolism by up-regulating thyroid output which carbohydrates do so well.
The leaner you are the more frequent you have them, simply put. The starvation hormone, Leptin is relevant here. If it is allowed to drop too low then the body will not allow body fat levels to reduce further. Carbohydrates up-regulate your leptin levels, again the leaner you are the lower they will drop within a shorter space of time.
Keeping fats to a minimum is key in order to ensure there aren’t difference energy sources competing. More than that we don’t want fatty acids floating around in the blood with insulin levels elevated. Protein is also reduced because carbs are protein sparing.
The high carb days will keep you moving in the right direction whilst also presenting an opportunity to include a small treat here and there.
Carbs aren’t evil and they are certainly not guilt free if they are wholegrain. The truth is, they are misunderstood and often misused. Understand what they do, when you really need them and they will quickly become your friends! In short fat loss gets a lot easier!!