I know that it’s cyclic, but after holding my tongue (most of the time) for months and months I decided the time has come to talk about the micronutrient that is currently being bullied on the diet front – carbs.
Fats and proteins have been the subject to scrutiny in the past but right now the war on carbs is STRONG with at least one person every day telling me that they are either on a low-carb or Keto-diet or are trying to be in order to lose weight.
Before I go any further, there are certainly times when a low carb keto-style diet is the best choice for someone. There are certain types of epilepsy, some cancers, some patients with PCOS and some individuals with insulin sensitivity that do really well and are able to live a healthier life on a low-carb diet.
That does not mean that it is right for everyone – or even most people.
My husband has to eat a very specific diet because he has ulcerative colitis. He can’t eat any fresh fruits or vegetables. Just because that is his truth, doesn’t mean the rest of us should avoid fresh produce in order to be healthier. We need to learn that each person has different dietary needs and requirements and just because your neighbour, your cousin’s best friend, or your coworker has lost 30 pounds in 1 month on a low carb diet – it doesn’t mean that is the only way – or the healthiest way to lose weight.
In fact, for most people, it is not the right or healthiest way at all.
Carbs…my misunderstood BFF
What happens when you drastically cut carbs
The word carbohydrate says it all – HYDRATE. Carbs hydrate your muscle so the first thing that happens when you go on a low-carb or Keto diet is you remove a lot of water from your muscles which results in a big drop in weight on the scale, but doesn’t mean you’ve lost fat. So when someone tells you they’ve lost 10 or 15lbs in a week or two from going on a keto-diet, take that with a grain of salt. Sure, the weight on the scale has lowered, but their body fat percentage likely hasn’t.
In fact, a bod-pod test quite likely would show they now have a higher percentage of fat than they did before because of the hydration removed from the lean muscle mass. Say someone weighed 200lbs and prior to their diet change they had 150lbs of lean body tissue (which includes muscle, bone, skin, organs etc.) leaving them with a body fat percentage of 25%. Then they go on a keto diet and lose 15lbs. They go back and do another bod-pod test, and now at 185lbs, they have 135lbs of lean body tissue and 27% body fat.
This, of course, is speaking only of the initial change, after this, they certainly will go on to lose fat, and likely more lean muscle but I feel it’s important that we don’t find ourselves in awe of that initial weight loss because it is rarely fat-loss.
Fat Burner vs Carb Burner
Training your body to be a “fat burner” is a trendy term, but in order for you to function at your highest you want to be a fat burner when you are designed to be a fat burner, and a carb burner when you are designed to be a carb burner.
Fat burner = at rest or during low-intensity exercise
Carb burner = strength training, interval training and higher intensity sports
Truthfully, our energy is always coming from a mix of fat and carbs, but in the lower intensity activities it’s primarily fats and higher intensity it’s primarily carbs, and then there is a BIG area in the middle where it is more like 50/50 or 40/60 etc.
If you want to perform well in those activities where you are designed to burn carbs – you’re going to need to be eating carbs!
Carbs are one of three (four if you count water – which I do) micronutrients that our body requires to function. Can you live without carbs or with very few carbs? In short – yes. But for the vast majority of individuals, it isn’t the best option.
Especially if you are an active person who strength trains, does HIIT or Tabata, enjoys intense exercise, does Crossfit, Power lifts or participates in sports, living on a low carb diet is going to hinder your performance and progress.
When you adequately replenish your carbohydrates post-workout, not only do you lower your stress response (less fatigue and DOMS), you will also recover faster which will allow you to train more often and more intensely to hit those goals.
The Experts Agree
I feel it’s important to get my education and information from people who are much smarter than me, that’s why I chose to be trained by dietitians and those with their doctorates in sports nutrition. I’ve now taken 2 extensive nutrition certifications and all of the experts I’ve consulted agree – you should be getting 25-55% of your daily intake from carbs. Obviously, if you are less active you will fall more into the 25% range, and those who train more often or have highly active jobs will be more in the 55% range.
That also means that those less active people can get away with getting the majority of their carbs from fruits and vegetables and some whole grains. But those (like me) who are highly active and require a lot of carbs (being 5 foot 9 and exercising for a living means I need to eat a LOT) will find it really, really challenging to get most of their carbs from fruits and vegetables which is why I get to enjoy more pasta, potatoes, rice, bread, etc. than perhaps my inactive (and shorter!) friends.
Focus on Quality, not Quantity
So my advice to those trying to find a healthier eating lifestyle is to stop focusing on the quantity of carbs you are eating, and instead focus on quality. It is virtually impossible to control the number of carbs you eat if you are not looking at quality.
Someone who eats 300g of carbs from soda and candy and french fries is going to feel (and look!) a whole lot different from someone who is eating 300g of carbs primarily from fruits/veggies and whole grains.
And I’m still considering making the t-shirts I keep talking about:
Stop being stupid and eat a potato
Hahaha. What do you think? Would you wear it?