You may have noticed that low carbohydrate diets (Atkins, Keto, Paleo) have become popular in recent years among people looking to lose weight. While more effective than low fat diets, cutting down carbs doesn’t mean you can splurge on protein or fat, you still need to consider your overall calorie intake.
While low-carb may not be for everyone, there are certain types of carbs that everyone should be limiting. Primarily that sweet sweet sugar.
Importance of Carbs in your Diet
The body breaks down carbs into glucose which is then used as an energy source. This energy can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for later use, when energy needs increase. Glucose is also used by the brain, but even when glucose is low (low carb diets) the liver will produce ketones to keep the brain going.
In practical terms, unless you are physically active you don’t really need a whole lot of carbs to stay healthy. But you will need to eat some carbs if you plan on using your muscles, in order to replenish glucose that is used up during training, whether it’s cardio or weight lifting .
Carbs for Fat Loss
Eating less carbs leaves space in your diet for the more filling proteins with the end result being higher satiety, which is crucial for anyone on a caloric deficit. There may be other benefits, but I consider this one the most important in any practical terms.
Carbs for Muscle Growth
Are post-workout carbs crucial for building muscle? Opinions are heavily divided and medical research to back up either claim is lacking.
Personally, I enjoy going carb and protein heavy for my post workout meals and low carb on my rest days. I like to think of protein as the building blocks of muscle and carbs as the builders. Whether this is true remains to be seen, but carb and protein-based post workout meals seem to be common among heavy lifters and the the question is: why the hell not?
Since there are no notable side effects and you need to replenish your glucose levels before the next exercise anyway, you might as well reap the (potential) benefits of post workout carb intake.
Types of Carbs
Fiber is not digested by the body (it simply passes through) and its main positive effect is that fiber significantly increases satiety. This is reason enough to eat fibers during weight loss, but the benefits don’t stop there. Fiber can also help make your toilet visits more regular and comfortable. Fiber – a good guy by all accounts.
Starch is the most common carbohydrate in the human diet and is contained in many staple foods. It is a good source of energy, but the problem is that few people require the amount of energy that all that bread, pizza and cereals provide.
A simple carb that can be found in its natural form (in fruits for example) or as sugar that is (often unnecessarily) added to various food products, ranging from chocolate to tomato sauce and yogurts.
Carb Quantity and Timing
There is very little research to back up exact numbers, but you can use the below guidelines which have worked for a number of people and adjust if necessary.
Carb Intake Based on Daily Activity
- Sedentary – 20-50 grams
- Cardio/Aerobic exercise – 100-150 grams
- Strength training – 150+ grams
Target lower ranges if you are of a smaller build and vice versa if you’re a big boy/girl. Remember that you need to experiment and adjust these number to whatever works for you, but odds are that most people will realize they need a whole lot less carbs than they consume.
Get your daily requirement for fiber and top up the rest with starch… and sugar if you must, but in small quantities only. To keep things simple, I’ve created the following table:
|Sugar||Try to keep minimal||Fruits over candy|
|Starch||0-150g depending on physical activity||Oats, whole wheat, rice, potatoes, lentils, quinoa|
|Fiber||20-50g daily||Vegetables, fruits|
Timing for sedentary fat loss is generally irrelevant, just make sure you get your required dosage on a daily basis. For those who are physically active, you might want to consider carb cycling: eat moderate-high amounts on workout days and go low carb on rest days. This is a totally legitimate way to sneak those carbs in every now and then, just remember to eat them soon after your workouts to reap the highest benefits.
Carbs and Weight Lifting
As previously discussed, carb intake after resistance training may be beneficial. This doesn’t mean running to the locker room to down your whey banana shake as soon as your workout is complete. Go home and enjoy your chicken and rice in peace or whatever combination of protein/carb floats your boat.
High Carb Foods
Before we get to some recommendations on the good guys, let’s take out the trash first.
Avoiding food with added sugar is one of the simplest ways of improving your diet. There is absolutely no nutritional benefit to consuming added sugar in foods and it can only be detrimental.
Recommended Carb Sources
- Grains – good starchy grains for those days when you are physically active: oats, quinoa, rice (white or brown), whole wheat bread and pasta.
- Vegetables – full of dietary fiber and water (good for satiety), they are also a key source of vitamins and minerals. Recommended: broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, cucumber, tomato, etc. This is really the only food you can eat in amounts that will challenge your stomach’s capacity. Potatoes (sweet or white) are also an excellent source of starch in addition to the above mentioned grains.
- Fruit – just like their veggie cousins, but higher in sugar, so limits should be imposed. Good options: apples, oranges, pears, blueberries, strawberries. Remember to eat actual fruits, not fruit juices which are devoid of fiber and are basically sugar water with a pleasant taste.