The Carbohydrate Debate

Carbohydrates are misunderstood. From the launch of the Atkins diet they were touted as the enemy, we’ve had low GI, the Zone diet and now the latest low carb diet the Dukan diet. But are carbs really that bad? After all the food pyramid suggests we eat the majority of our calories from carbs?

First of all lets examine carbohydrate foods.

Most people know that carbs are found in all grains and therefore all breads, cereals and pastas etc.

All fruit and veg contain carbohydrate but on a much lower scale than grains. Fruits tend to have a higher carb content than vegetables.

Any sugary foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks, juices etc will contain carbs too.

Dairy products contain carbs.

And then we have what are referred to as residual carbs in foods like nuts and seeds.

Now to understand carbs we must first understand that all carbs (except fibre) are broken down into glucose (sugar) in the body. We can’t use them unless they are broken down into glucose first. So they all end up as the same thing.

The speed at which they are broken down is important as the faster they are absorbed the more of a blood sugar spike you will get. When blood sugar is high your body will produce insulin to store that sugar. It’s stored in either your muscle or in fat cells. So the key point here is that a high blood sugar spike will increase insulin which can make you store more fat (this is dependant on a few things which we will cover in a moment)

Now seeing as carbs, or more accurately glucose, is our bodies most preffered energy source we must acknowledge there is a need for them. Cutting them out completely is actually almost impossible anyway. The definition of a low carbohydrate diet varies from less than 20grms of net carbs to 60grms. Net carbs are the carbohydrate that will be converted to glucose in the body, any fibre in the food won’t be. To give you an example 1 slice of white of white bread contains about 12.7 grms of carbs (.5 of which is fibre so 12.2grms of net carbs). One tomato has 5grms (1.5grms of fibre, so 3.5 grms of net carbs) One typical bowl of pasta will contain over 70grms of carbs too!!

So to eat a proper low carbohydrate diet one would eliminate all starchy carbs like bread, pasta and potatoes and then count the net carbs in veggies, fruits, nuts etc. to ensure they were eating low carb. As you can see it actually takes a bit of work to eat very low carbohydrate.

Ok so now you have a better understanding of carbs lets look at the different food sources. The majority of the Western world’s diet consists of refined carbs and sugar. Take a look at any food label and you will see that almost all packaged food has carbs in it. When I work with a client I try to educate them on how to avoid the refined carbs and choose more natural ones such as brown rice, sweet potato, and more ancient grains such as millet, quinoa and buckwheat.

We do this for a few reasons but mainly to identify if the modern grains such as wheat are causing them any digestive problems. So we don’t eliminate carbs we change the source.

NOTE: If you suffer from digestive issues and even low mental clarity and focus (your digestive system is directly linked to your brain via the enteric nerve) I would suggest trying to eliminate modern grains from your food for 10 days and see how you feel. If you reintroduce them back in and feel any bloating, stomach pain, brain fog etc its more than likely that the food doesn’t work for you and should be avoided.

The timing of when you eat your carbohydrates is important too. Forget about veg for a moment as they contain very little carbs (except potaotes and a few others).

Eating carbs first thing in the morning is very beneficial as you haven’t eaten for hours (at least I hope not!) They will give you energy and, provided you are training effectively, your muscles will store them.

After training is another important time to eat your carbs as, again with an effective programme that places a lot of demand on your muscles, the carbs will be used in your recovery and stored in the muscles. Aerobic exercise (walking, running etc) doesn’t use up many carbs and therefore won’t burn them off as much

On non training days it should go without saying that your carbohydrate intake should be lower. Also you should avoid them in the evening as you won’t have a chance to burn them off (if you train in the evening then you can have them). Unfortunately most people don’t do enough of the right training and tend to eat way more carbs throughout the day and into the evening than they actually need.

The nutrition programme I use in our SFFitness Camps and with my clients focuses on carbohydrate cycling. Some days you’ll eat more carbs (training days) other days you’ll eat less (non training days) I hope that starts to make sense. The more training you do the greater demand for carbs and the less you do the less you need. A phrase I heard a long time ago fits in perfectly here

Nobody deserves carbs, You gotta earn them first!

John <–February’s camps start 14th Feb then the doors close till end of March

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