Carbohydrates, the great dietary enigma. But if you are not sure what to think about carbohydrates, you have definitely come to the right place. With all the information (and misinformation) out there, it’s easy to get confused. And since your carbohydrate intake is such a vital role in your fitness program (I highly recommend P90X), you need some basic understanding to maximize your results. That said, let’s get to some straight talk.
To simply put it, your body uses carbohydrates to make glucose which is the fuel that gives you energy and helps keep everything going. Too little, and you will bonk in your workouts. Too much, and your fat stores increase.
The goal is to feed your body just enough carbohydrates so that there is enough glucose stored in your liver and muscles for when it is needed, but not in excess.
So where do we find carbohydrates? Glad you asked. You can find carbohydrates in the following:
- Breads, cereals, and -other grains
- Milk and milk products
- Foods containing added sugars (e.g., cakes, cookies, and sugar-sweetened beverages).
It’s important to note that healthier foods higher in carbohydrates include ones that provide dietary fiber and whole grains as well as those without added sugars.
What about foods higher in carbohydrates such as sodas and candies that also contain added sugars? Those are the ones that add extra calories but not many nutrients to your diet.
“I’ve heard there are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs? Can you provide me more information?”
This is a question we always get. Sure, some diet books use “bad” carbs to talk about foods with refined carbohydrates (i.e., meaning they’re made from white flour and added sugars). Some examples would include cakes, cookies and white bread. The”Good” carbs are typically described as foods that have more fiber and complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are carbohydrates that take longer to break down into glucose; such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. These are the ones that provide steady insulin levels that keep you from the highs and lows, or should I say, the “spikes” and “crashes.”
“I always hear and read about “complex” and “simple” carbohydrates, but I am still confused. What’s the difference and how does it effect me?”
Starch and dietary fiber are two types of complex carbohydrates. Starch must be broken down through digestion before your body can use it as a glucose source. Quite a few foods contain starch and dietary fiber such as breads, cereals, and vegetables:
- Starch is in certain vegetables (i.e., potatoes, dry beans, peas, and corn).
- Starch is also found in breads, cereals, and grains.
- Dietary fiber is in vegetables, fruits, and whole grain foods.
Simple carbohydrates include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits, some vegetables, milk, and milk products. Simple carbohydrates also include sugars added during food processing and refining (this is the bad stuff).
What’s the difference?
In general, foods with added sugars have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally-occurring sugars. They also lead to that “sugar rush” that ultimately leads to a bad “crash.” This is why I do not typically recommend a high amount (notice I said HIGH amount) of fruit to dieters trying to lose body fat, because it contains simple carbohydrates. Many people are under the impression that a fruit diet is good to lose weight. WRONG!
Well, sort of.
Let me be clear here, I am not saying fruit is not good for you…it is EXCELLENT for you and a great source of nutrition. BUT, if you are trying to shed excess body fat, the simple sugars in fruit can hinder your progress. Sure, if your diet is not ideal and contains a lot of junk food, then substituting fruit is a great alternative. But understand this, one of the reasons you might lose a little weight is because you are no longer getting all the other fat (the bad fats) that is typically associated with junk food. But to shed fat, which usually requires a reduction in carbohydrates, do not make the mistake of thinking a high amount of fruit is okay. To MAXIMIZE your efforts, most of the carbohydrates you do eat should be of the complex variety, but an apple or orange will not hurt.
Get the picture?
BUT…once you get close to your goal, you should bump the fruit back up as carbohydrates are also essential in the muscle building process, contains a lot of valuable vitamins and minerals, and a great source of energy.
So that’s the skinny on carbohydrates For more information download the report from the Department of Health and Human Services, “HHS Health Facts; Choosing Carbohydrates Wisely”
Remember…COMMIT to GET FIT and BRING IT!