Common questions about carbohydrates: Are carbs healthy? Why are carbs bad? Are carbs bad for you? Should I try a no sugar no-carb diet? What are healthy carbs, do they even exist? Are carbs necessary? Are all carbs bad? Are carbs bad for abs? The list could go on and on about carbs and how and when and why or if we should eat them at all. I am here to tell you our bodies NEED balance! They do not need fad diets. They do not need deprivation. I can only tell you what has worked for me and what the nutritionists and fitness trainers I follow recommend. What I know for sure, is that I am 60 pounds lighter than I was four years ago and I love carbs (and still eat them)!
Are carbohydrates bad for you?
Are carbs bad? Let’s first start with the definition of carbohydrates. According to livescience.com carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy diet.
“Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three main ways the body obtains energy or calories,” said Paige Smathers, a Utah-based registered dietitian. The American Diabetes Association notes that carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.
There are three macro-nutrients:
Macro-nutrients are essential for proper body functioning, and the body requires large amounts of them. All macro-nutrients must be obtained through diet; the body cannot produce macronutrients on its own. So, if we are considering this definition, it seems that carbohydrates are an important part of our diet. Remember growing up, many of our classrooms had the food guide pyramid? Well, it always had grains at the bottom with a large form of carbohydrates and they were listed as 6-11 servings! Knowing what I know now, I think this is absolutely crazy. In these photos see the difference between the “OLD” and “NEW” pyramid. The image began to change
when we started to realize the different impacts between complex and simple carbohydrates. Coming back to the main question, NO, carbohydrates are not bad, but what does matter is the types of carbohydrates we put in our body and when. In a nutshell, carbs are good!
What are good carbs and bad carbs?
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. The food guide pyramid has actually shifted into giving us more insight on what “good” carbs and “bad” carbs are. Although the guide has made a shift, in my eyes, it still has its flaws. I have always subscribed to the idea that nutrition is NOT a one size fits all. Whether a carbohydrate is good or bad really depends on the person who is eating it and what their goals are. Certain carbohydrates are better for losing weight, while other carbs are for weight gain.
The system I have used for years now is the portion fix system by Autumn Calabrese. I have used this for weight-loss and maintenance. She also has plans for weight gain. In her system carbohydrates are identified by a yellow container. There is an entire list of different foods that can be put in the yellow container list and hint, it’s not just bread! It is a combination of grains, fruits, and vegetables (see the photo above). Most importantly the carbohydrates to avoid are those sugary sweet treats. Avoiding doesn’t mean eliminating these treats altogether, but rather enjoying them in moderation and balancing them out with the right portions of other foods. For example, the plan I follow allots for me to have two servings of carbohydrates a day. If I know I want to have a sweet treat or drink some wine, I allow myself to enjoy that and then use lettuce for my burger instead of a bun, or zucchini noodles for my pasta instead of more starchy noodle options like regular spaghetti or even a gluten-free option. Don’t be fooled, gluten-free options like quinoa pasta or rice noodles are amazing, but they are still full of carbohydrates.
No carb meal plans, good or bad?
Some people do no-carb meal plans altogether or a zero carb diet. While this can be effective for losing weight short term, in my opinion, it is not a long term healthy way to sustain weight-loss and a healthy diet. Many replacements or supplements for things like the Atkins diet are packed with fillers and chemicals. Also, of course, when we eliminate something specific from our diet that the body has become accustomed to, the body goes into shock and loses weight, but eventually, it gains it back. This is where yo-yo dieting begins. How many times have you heard of someone who stopped drinking soda or sugary drinks and then lost 10-15 pounds? This is amazing and clearly a healthy choice, but it is only part of the battle. What happens if that person drinks soda again, what happens if they don’t have a healthy diet or an exercise routine? Do you think they will maintain their weight-loss, or will their body adjust? Hint, it is very hard to outrun unhealthy nutrition.
What about carbohydrates and exercise?
This is an entirely different ball game. The two things I would like to address here are carb-cycling and carbohydrates for weight gain. When you are expelling many calories and a lot of energy through fitness whether it is cardio or lifting, and you have a specific goal in mind, carbohydrates are a necessary fuel for the body. According to healthline.com carb-cycling is a weight-loss technique that is a “dietary approach in which you alternate carb intake on a daily, weekly or monthly basis”. It is commonly used to lose fat, maintain physical performance while dieting, or overcome a weight loss plateau. Some people adjust their carb intake day-to-day, while others may do longer periods of low, moderate and high-carb diets. In short, carb cycling aims to time carbohydrate intake to when it provides maximum benefit and exclude carbs when they’re not needed. So in this specific approach, carbohydrates are still needed to lose weight!
You can program your carb intake based on a variety of factors, including:
- Body Composition Goals: Some will reduce carbs during a diet, then add them back during a “muscle building” or performance phase.
- Training and Rest Days: One popular approach is a higher carb intake on training days and a lower carb intake on rest days.
- Scheduled Re feeds: Another popular approach is to do 1 or several days at a very high-carb intake to act as a “re feed” during a prolonged diet.
- Special Events or Competitions: Athletes will often “carb load” prior to an event, and many physique competitors will do the same before a bodybuilding show or photoshoot.
- Type of Training: Individuals will tailor carb intake depending on the intensity and duration of a particular training session; the longer or more intense the training is, the more carbs they will consume and vice versa.
- Body Fat Levels: Many individuals will cycle their carbohydrates based on their level of body fat. The leaner they become, the more high-carb days or blocks they include.
Healthline also has a plethora of information regarding healthy carbohydrates and how to eat them to gain weight. Hint, it’s not just sweet potato.
If you feel like you are wanting more recipes, tips, and tricks to living your healthiest life, I have lots more where those came from. All of my meal plans include access to hundreds of recipes and short, easy, all levels workouts. If you have any specific recipes you would like or fitness program questions, always feel free to reach out to me. Thanks for reading I hope this information was useful and finds you in a space of the heart.
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