To Carb or Not to Carb?

The following is a part of a dialogue that transpired between a new client and I during her initial consultation 2 years ago:

Me: Tell me a little bit about your diet.

Client: It’s pretty good. I eat healthy.

Me: Could you be more specific?

Client: Well, I don’t eat carbs.

To eat carbs or to not eat carbs. It’s a hot topic of interest that has ubiquitously made waves all around the world and more apparent in fitness circles. Carbohydrate consumption has become arguably the mot polarizing topic in the health and fitness industry. Television and print media continue to saturate our minds with so many overwhelming theories and information leaving the consumer very confused. I will tell you what I’ve learned through trial and error and extensive research study in 10 years.

Carbohydrates are the most important macronutrients in the human body. They are the body’s most important source of fuel which also provide the most immediate burst of energy during activities like sprinting and weight training. Simply put: Without carbs, we’d all be dead! Protein and Fat, the two other macronutrients, aren’t capable of breaking down quickly enough to supply the body with fuel during high intensity activities. When carbs are readily available in the body (stored in the form of glycogen), the body is able to push itself through all types of physical activities. When we don’t consume enough carbs, our bodies will look to obtain fuel from other sources, most notably our protein stores in the liver. This will subsequently lead to loss of muscle.

Our nervous system also relies heavily on carbs for sustained maintenance and energy. When blood sugar falls beneath the optimal functioning level, our bodies quiver and we get weary quickly. Ever felt so tired and out of it in the middle of the day for no apparent reason? It is because you probably hadn’t consumed enough sugars for the day up to that point. When these blood sugar levels dip too low, unconsciousness, lethargy, dizziness and brain dysfunction are the results.

Carbohydrates are classified as Simple (High-glycemic) and Complex (Low-glycemic). While both are crucial for optimal functioning and performance, complex carbs (oatmeal, brown rice, beans, vegetables, almonds, fruits) are preferred because of their low glycemic index feature which allow them to be absorbed more slowly by the body and provide sustained energy. High glycemic carbs (white bread, pasta, bagel, corn flakes, soda ) may be ideal for refueling and replenishing the body’s glycogen stores after exercise, but at other times of the day, their heavy carbohydrate load results in fat storage. This is because when these carbs are consumed but not utilized right away for fuel, they are converted to fat and stored in the body’s adipose tissues, which stores fat in the body’s midsection.

Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of our daily calories. Carbohydrate consumption should be based on physical activity levels, time of day and fitness goals. If you’re an elite athlete or competitive lifter, you should consume more carbs than the average person. If the goal is weight loss, carbs should be on the low-to-moderate side, altough calories consumed versus calories burned will ultimately be the deciding factor. Carbs are good for you. Just make sure you’re not eating too much of them and also consuming the right ones.

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