Carbs are not evil. We need them. In fact, they are the body’s preferred energy source. Personally, without them I get a little fuzzy, a little cranky and very hard to deal with. Perhaps you’ve felt the same way if you’ve ever tried one of many popular carb limiting diets like Atkins or Dukan. Plans like these restrict your carbs to 50 grams a day or under to facilitate extreme and rapid weight loss.
But remember weight loss and fat loss are not the same. What you lose so quickly in those first few days is water, not fat. Since it’s very hard to sustain a daily intake under the 130 grams of carbs per day recommended to support daily energy needs, many people go back to normal after a few weeks (or days) on these diets. When carbs return, so does the water and the weight. You feel like a failure when it’s really just basic biology working as predicted.
For real fitness and real fat loss, you do need some carbs. It’s all about the type and timing of these carbs.
I divide carbs into three types: smart carbs, starchy carbs and junk carbs.
- Smart carbs are the nutrient rich and brightly colored carbs. This category includes vegetables, fruits, protein rich dairy and fiber rich foods like beans, oats and quinoa.
- Starchy carbs may be natural but also may be more processed. They spike the blood sugar more because they lack fiber and protein to balance them out. This would include foods like white potatoes, breads, pasta and rice.
- Junk carbs are the ones with nothing that the body needs. They are high sugar and highly processed foods. They will spike your blood sugar up, crash you back down and leave you craving more. This includes things like cookies, cake, soda, brownies, candy and crackers.
The smart carbs are your anytime carbs. You want to eat them with all your meals and snacks. Smart carbs typically have fiber or protein to help prevent blood sugar spikes (and subsequent crashes) while giving your body and your brain the energy they need to function. Make vegetables and fruits the base of your carbs, with things like beans and quinoa as the “accent”.
A sandwich is okay as long as it’s after a workout. Starchy carbs like whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta and white potatoes are for after exercise. Your body will need to replenish the carb stores depleted by your workout and your body is primed for this purpose. You don’t really need these types of carbs before a workout unless your planning to work out for longer than an hour or your goal is endurance (as opposed to fat loss or general fitness).
I won’t tell you that you can never have a cupcake again. But these are treats. And if you have something every day it’s a habit not a treat. Save the sugar for special occasions or rare treats (like enjoying chocolate on a Parisian vacation – oh my!).
No matter what food or food group, you can eat too much of anything so keep an eye on portions. But you can rejoice in the fact that carbs don’t have to be off limits to look and feel the way you want to.
How do you balance you plate? How do you keep junk carbs at bay?