Throw your hands up if you love carbs! OK, now throw your hands up if you’re worried carbs will affect your physique negatively. Unfortunately, I’ll bet there were a similar number of hands up.
Most of us LOVE carbohydrates. But, while we love them and they make us feel energized, satisfied and strong— we restrict them because we don’t know enough about how they work within our body and how they work around our workouts.
Low-carb or no-carb diets are common for those with physique aspirations. Whether you simply want to get healthy, lose weight, or compete in a fitness competition, carbs are often put on the “NO” list.
Does eliminating carbs result in weight loss?
The answer is yes. One thing I teach at my Jessie’s Girls Training Camps is that there are SO many ways to get lean and lose weight. Is eating little to no carbs and doing endless cardio one of them? It sure is. You will lose weight with that approach. But what else will you lose with that approach? Your metabolism, appetite, energy, good mood, energy, sex life and so much more.
While that approach may seem like the “easy road” in the beginning, you are signing up for years of frustration and damage to follow.
How do I keep the carbohydrates in my diet and still get lean?
Complex carbs provide important fuel and nutrients for your body and they also cause a process in your body to take place that increases lean muscle mass development. Complex carbs are slower-digesting foods such as brown rice, whole grains, quinoa, oatmeal and sweet potatoes. They provide your body with long-lasting fuel that is slower to break down, keeping blood sugar levels more constant (instead of high and low spikes) and promotes the release of insulin.
Insulin plays a surprising role in our muscular development. Insulin increases our body’s ability to take in more amino acids (proteins) into our muscle tissue, which helps with muscle recovery and muscle growth. Many bodybuilders and athletes know the importance of eating carbs post-workout, and this is also due to the insulin effect. When we deplete our insulin levels (by under-fueling) and have low blood sugar, our body wants to recover these low levels. The intake of carbs post workout spikes our insulin levels which signals to our body to recover and creates a “safe zone” for building muscle.
Skipping the post-workout carbs may lead to a state where you begin breaking down muscle post-workout rather than building it. Stop the madness!
During a low- or no-carb diet, you’ll notice that you feel low energy, sluggish and usually will lose muscle mass or look “flat.” The same way your muscles require proteins and fats to work properly and perform, your body also requires carbs to have energy, recover, sustain and build muscle.
Your body needs glycogen to build and repair muscle. Complex carbs help your body to restore those glycogen levels.
TIP: Your body breaks down and uses proteins much more efficiently when paired with complex carbs.
But what if I am “carb intolerant?”
First, let’s address what carb tolerance/insulin sensitivity is. Very simply put, your “carb tolerance” means you have insulin sensitivity and your body is in a healthy hormonal state that digests and stores carbohydrates efficiently and effectively.
Insulin sensitive people eat carbs, their digestive system breaks down the starch in those carbs and turns it into glucose. Glucose is just sugar (a form of carbohydrate) and you’ll either use it for energy or store as fat. How your body determines whether to store for energy or as fat depends on your body and your training frequency and intensity.
As the glucose from the carbs enters your bloodstream, your blood sugar level spikes. When this happens, insulin (which is produced in the pancreas) kicks in to carry the glucose out of the bloodstream and store it in your muscles (It can also be stored in your liver, and/or fat tissue) for future use. Then, when you hit the gym and need energy and fuel, you use that stored glucose.
That’s the perfect scenario.
When insulin tries to store glucose in your muscles, but your body denies the process, that glucose just stays in your bloodstream, does NOT get stored in your muscles and, therefore, gets stored as fat.
Aside from gluten sensitivity, food allergies, and inflammation (all legitimate carb sensitivities that can be determined by your doctor), you may think or feel like “your body hates carbs.” If you do not have allergies or sensitivities, but you can’t stand the way carbs affect your body, you most likely are insulin resistant (carb intolerant).
How did I get this way?
Eating too many simple carbs (refined sugars, white pasta, white bread, pastries, etc) too often will exceed your body’s capacity to store glucose, causing insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.
TIP: A very low or no-carb diet for an extended period of time can actually cause insulin resistance as part of the starvation response. So, not eating carbs can be just as detrimental as eating too many.
How do I become a lean, carb-eating machine?
How many carbs you can eat and what you can store is based on your body. The leaner you are, the better your insulin sensitivity, allowing you to eat more carbs and your body responding better to a high carb diet. This is why you see super fit people eating lots of yummy carbs (mostly pre- and post-workout).
To know for sure what your insulin levels are, you can get blood work. But that’s not always necessary. With time and patience, you can test to see how your body reacts to carb meals and different carb amounts. You need to begin tracking/logging your meals and macros so you know for sure exactly what you are eating each day, each meal. I suggest keeping this log for a minimum of two weeks. Don’t worry too much about what you’re eating and when— JUST START LOGGING.
From that log, you can plainly see how many carbs you’re eating, and at which meals. This is when the fun starts! You can start planning your meals out accordingly and either reduce the carb amounts depending on how your body reacts (example: if you feel bloated and sluggish, see what you ate around that time. You’ll most likely find that you ate too many simple carbs at that meal) or add carbs in if you’re not getting enough to fuel workouts and provide energy.
There are TONS of awesome workouts and meal plans right here on FitnessRxWomen.com, you can also check out my Jessie’s Girls Training programs at JessieFitness.com/jessiesgirls to find a training and nutrition program that works for you. My Jessie’s Girls programs coach you through calculating your macros and adjusting your carbs throughout a 12-14 week program.