As many of you know, I’m currently working on obtaining my Sports Nutrition Certification. This weekend I read all about carbs and I instantly knew I wanted it to be the focus of this weeks blog.
I feel that there is a lack of knowledge and a number of misconceptions that surround carbs. When we set weight loss goals, two of the first things to be greatly reduced are calories and carbs. This can actually take you farther away from your health goals. The truth is, carbs are a critical component of a healthy diet and crucial for optimal athletic performance. Carbs are THE most important source of energy for the body! In fact, they are the ONLY macronutrient that can provide energy for anaerobic activities. If an athlete’s carbohydrate intake is low, his or her body will turn to the breaking down muscle protein to make up for the deficit in needed carbs.
Here are some common carb misconceptions:
- Carbs make you gain weight – When you cut carbs you may initially see a weight loss but most of that is water weight. Muscles store 3 grams of water per 1 gram of carbohydrates. While this offers short-term progress, it is not sustainable long-term, especially for active individuals. The bigger issue is many people do not know what a proper carb portion looks like, causing them to overeat them. Carbs also have an immediate effect on our blood sugar so it’s best to combine them with other foods like proteins and healthy fats. This will help to stabilize your blood sugar and will help you feel satisfied longer.
- Bread and pasta are evil – How you use or abuse them will determine how they impact your health. Be mindful of the grains you are choosing because that will make a big difference such as white vs. whole grain. Whole grain products are more nutrient dense offering more fiber and vitamins. They will also allow you to sustain energy longer. Again, portion sizes are what trip most of us up when it comes to these types of carbs! For example, 1 cup of cooked rice or pasta has around 45 grams of carbs but when dining out it’s not uncommon to be closer to 75 grams.
- All carbs are created equal – Carbs can either come from processed food like baked goods, sugary drinks, sweets, and other processed foods or fruits, whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, squash, corn, and lentils. These options have more fiber which keeps your blood sugar from spiking and dropping, which will have you reaching for more in no time flat!
- Just count the carbs from the food label – As we’ve discussed not all carbs are created equal. Reading labels will provide you with the quantity of carbohydrate but not the quality. In many cases, you can tell the quality of carbohydrate if it’s balanced with fiber. A general rule of thumb is 1 gram of fiber per 10 grams of carbs. However, some companies are sneaky and add fiber to products afterward. Check the ingredients list for a whole food source to ensure the fiber is naturally occurring. The best way to ensure you are getting the most nutrients possible it’s best to stick with whole foods.
- Cut back on fruit – Many low carb diets have people cutting back on their fruit. Yes, fruit breaks down as sugar so it’s wise to stay within recommended serving sizes, however, fruit is also packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Fruit can fight off cancer and also give you extra energy for your workout. Include more natural sugars in your diet and focus more on cutting out the refined processed ones.
Here are some tips to help you maximize your carb intake to benefit your health journey most.
- Your diet should be composed of 45-65% of carbohydrates. This is clearly a wide range so you have to play with it and see what YOUR body needs.
- If you want to calculate the calories of carbs you should be ingesting per day, here is a formula you can use Caloric goal x % of carbs = total number of carb calories per day
- If you’d like to calculate the number of grams of carbs you should be ingesting per day, here is a formula you can use – Carb calories divided by 4 = grams of carbohydrates daily
- For 24 hours before an intense workout or event, carb intake can be 60-70% of total calories.
- Athletes should strive to consume 1-4 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight (google conversion) in the 1-4 hours prior to exercise.
- Studies have been done that even the presence of carbohydrates in your mouth activates regions of the brain that can improve exercise performance. If you don’t want to eat a big meal before you workout try:
- Half a banana
- A piece of toast or bagel
- A juice that contains 6-8% carbs (be mindful of artificial ingredients)
- Research indicates that muscles absorb blood glucose and restore glycogen at higher rates when carbs are ingested within 2 hours after training. Delaying carbohydrate consumption until 4 or more hours after training can cut the glycogen synthesis in half. To maximize glycogen synthesis, athletes should consume carbohydrates at the rate of 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight every hour for 4 hours post-exercise.
- Reach for complex carbs such as Oatmeal, yams, sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grain bread/pasta, quinoa, lentils, legumes, squash, bananas, or other whole fruits.
So the moral of this story … learn to love carbs and learn to properly use them as fuel. For the intense workouts you’re doing at NCS you absolutely need carbs to give you energy and help your muscles recover. In the months to come, we will be offering more individualized nutrition education to support you in becoming as healthy as possible. Stay tuned …