I know a lot of people are afraid of carbs these days, so I thought I’d clear the air and provide a little “carbs 101” breakdown to help you better understand how to fit them into your diet. Let me show you how to be a lean, mean, carb-eating machine! 😉
Lets start with the basics.
What is a carb?
Carbohydrates are a macronutrient that contain 4 calories/gram. Basically, anything that the body breaks down into glucose can be considered a carbohydrate. Carbs also happen to be your body’s main fuel source. Our bodies have the ability to transform other macronutrients into glycogen (the storage form of glucose) because that’s how much they prefer to use carbs for energy. Do you know what their second choice of fuel is? Protein. NOT FAT. That means if your body needs to break down your muscle to fuel itself, it will. (No bueno!)
Why are carbs important?
As mentioned above, they are the main source of energy for our body, but they also play an important role in maintaining lean body mass (more on this, here).The more lean body mass you have, the faster your metabolism is, the more calories you burn at rest. Sounds good, right? It is. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with carbohydrates requires a little bit of knowledge to decipher which carbs are best.
What kinds of carbs should you eat?
Not all calories are created equal. Neither are all carbs. If you’ve been around these parts for awhile, you’ve heard me say a million times that you should be eating whole foods. That means your carbs are coming from things like rice, grains, oats, fruits, starchy vegetables, etc. Not processed cereals and breads.
When should you eat carbs?
This is going to depend on your lifestyle. If you are someone who is active, the majority of your carbs should be consumed around your workouts/physical activity. If you are not physically active and you are just trying to clean up your diet, stick to balanced meals throughout the day. Also, always consume a serving of protein with your carbs. Choosing slower digesting carbs will help you keep a steady supply of energy without feeling starved. A quick digesting carb will be metabolized faster and can leave you feeling hungry (which leads to snacking and over-eating!). Note: high glycemic carbs are best consumed post-workout.
How can you tell the difference between a slow and fast digesting carb?
The glycemic index is a tool used to represent the speed of carbohydrate digestion. The higher a food item is on the glycemic index, the faster it digests; the lower it is on the glycemic index, the slower it digests. If you are unsure about what type of carbohydrate a food item is, you can refer to the glycemic index here. If this is all new to you, I would write out a list of all of the carbohydrates you like to eat. Search all of those carbohydrate sources on the glycemic index and see where they fall, then write them down for your reference.
How many carbs should I eat?
This is also going to depend on your lifestyle and your goals. Generally speaking, try keeping your protein and carbohydrate consumption the same. So, if you’re eating 150 grams of carbs a day, you should be eating 150 grams of protein a day too. Break this down even further and keep them consistent at each meal. If you eat 40 grams of carbs in one meal, aim for 40 grams of protein. Using this approach has a way of enforcing portion control even if you are not being conscious of it. It’s easy to eat 100 grams of carbs in one sitting if you’re indulging in multiple cookies and candy bars… eating 100 grams of protein in one sitting is a lot harder to get. By keeping your protein and carbs equal, you can easily see that you need to re-adjust your choices.
The world of carbohydrates goes far beyond what I have described in this post. If you are new to your health journey, this is more than enough information to get you started. One of the most common reasons people quit when they try to eat healthier is because of the plethora of information being shoved at them, which can be confusing and overwhelming. We all know that feeling. And that makes us want to give up because we don’t understand it.
If you are more advanced in your health journey and would like to read further about how carbohydrates play a role in a healthy lifestyle, you can read another one of my posts explaining carbohydrate timing and how it plays a role in maintaining muscle mass.
What do you find difficult about managing your carbohydrate intake?