Carbohydrates – Friend or Foe?
The consumption of carbohydrates and to what level is a frequent topic of conversation within the health and fitness industry. The level of confusion in the community as to the consumption of carbohydrates, the types of carbohydrates to consume and in what amounts is almost unparalleled. So let Urban Fitness Club try to cut through a lot of the hype and separate the fact from the fiction to see if we can get you on the right path to eating to achieve your goals.
In simple terms, there are three main macronutrients that we consume as part of our diet. The macronutrients are protein, carbohydrate and fat. The percentage of your diet that these macronutrients represent will impact on your body composition. This should go without saying, but the confusion lies in what percentages for which nutrients help to achieve what goals.
Of these three macronutrients, only fat and protein must be consumed as part of the diet to keep us healthy. There is no necessity for the body to consume carbohydrates in order to function. Read that last sentence again, because for some people and some goals, this is important. What little “sugar” the brain needs to function can be provided through the generation of ketones from fat if sufficient carbohydrates are not available.
So on this basis, we could theoretically consume a diet that has no carbohydrates through to a diet that is mostly carbohydrates. So if carbohydrates are a “non-essential” nutrient, where should we fall on this spectrum? If you follow what the “healthy eating” standards that have been recommended by the health departments of most western countries, you will find yourself consuming a diet that is somewhere between 50 and 60 percent carbohydrates. The guidelines are also quite neutral about the types of carbohydrate you eat with grains, fruits and vegetables all considered to be of roughly the same value. Fortunately, the most recent eating guidelines for Australians have recommended that we reduce our consumption of sugar, one of the most simple of carbohydrates. If you follow a Paleo style diet you consumption of carbohydrates will fall to somewhere between 10 and 30 percent of your daily caloric intake. The type of carbohydrate you consume will also change, with your carbohydrate sources being limited to fruit, vegetables and (depending on how you choose to implement it) starchy tubers.
So again, we come back to the question on what level of carbohydrates should we consume and what form of carbohydrates should we consume. The type of carbohydrates we should consume is the easier of the two to answer. Your carbohydrate sources should be as natural as possible, that is, they should not be processed in any way. Fruits, vegetables and tubers should be the basis of your carbohydrate consumption with the occasional serving of white rice. Be careful in your consumption of grains as they can irritate the small intestine, causing digestive problems. Grains also contain elements that can bind with nutrients in the food and prevent their absorption by the body. Sugar and sugar laden soft drinks should be avoided at all costs.
Now that we have isolated the types of carbohydrates to consume, what volume of carbohydrates should we consume? In simple terms, it depends on your goals. If you wish to lose weight or “lean out” cut your carbohydrate levels from what they are today. Carbohydrates bind with water in the water causing us to retain fluid. By reducing the intake of carbohydrates, the body will release this fluid as it is no longer required. Reducing your carbohydrate intake will also limit the release of Insulin, a hormone that prevents the body from burning fat until it has processed the sugar in the bloodstream. If you are engaged in a period of particularly heavy or intense training, you may wish to increase your carbohydrate consumption somewhat, as long as you remember consume “good” carbohydrates (i.e. non-processed).
The timing of your carbohydrate consumption can also impact on how the body treats it. A significant intake of carbohydrates immediately following a heavy resistance training session will see the carbohydrates being sucked into the muscles to replenish the stores that were lost during exercise. This is a window of opportunity that you should look to exploit if you want to build muscle while keeping your body fat levels under control. An easy way to do this is to consume a protein shake after training that consists of:
- Whey Protein Powder
- 1 Cup of Water (or Full Cream Milk if you can handle it)
- ½ Cup of Coconut Milk (to get some “good fat” into the body)
- 1 Banana or 1 Cup of Berries
Put it all into the blender, mix it up and away you go. There you have the Urban Fitness Club Post Training Shake!
Key Takeaways – While the body does not need carbohydrates to survive, their strategic use can benefit those who are training intensely or who want to build muscle. Avoid processed carbohydrates at all costs and reduce your intake if you wish to lose weight.
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