THE MAGIC OF CARBOHYDRATES: Carbohydrates, friend or foe?
To begin, Carbohydrates should constitute about 40%-50% of our diet. Yes, 40%. Do not stop reading and think I am crazy, there is a reason why the title is called, The magic of carbohydrates. In this post I will briefly explain why you need to eat carbs and possible ways to balance them as well.
According to history, we have been eating carbohydrates for about 2.5 Million years, and bread since 8000 B.C. Yikes, that’s a long time. But suddenly, in modern society bread and carbohydrates have become “the devil.” Carbohydrates gurus blame those extra pounds and love handles to the consumption of bread, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes or any other source of carbohydrate. We have even gone as far as thinking that fructose (sugar coming from fruits) makes us gain weight.
They all say these things while drinking beer or eating their favorite Caesar salad that does not have any croutons because they are the devil, and of course it is more Caesar dressing than lettuce…. hmmm??
All sarcasm aside (even though I love it), Carbohydrates or fructose are the human body’s best friend. We need carbohydrates in order to function to our maximum capacity. Eating carbohydrates will not make you fat. There is no scientific research that says that a specific type of food makes us gain weight, not even sugar. It is the over and unnecessary consumption of any food that will lead to undesirable weight gain. Why? Because if your body is not able to burn it, it will store it as fat. It sounds stupid that our body, being so perfect does not just get rid of it (yes, the human body is a perfect machine). But remember, your body is not designed to look good on the beach, it is designed for survival. In times of hunger this was humanity’s best aid.
What are carbohydrates?
- The American Diabetes Associationnotes that “carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. They are called carbohydrates because, at the chemical level, they contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.”
- "Carbohydrates are macronutrients, meaning they are one of the three main ways the body obtains energy, or calories," said Paige Smathers , a Utah-based registered dietitian.
- “Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables and milk products. Though often maligned in trendy diets, carbohydrates — one of the basic food groups — are important to a healthy diet.” (Szalay, J. 2017)
Why do we need carbohydrates?
A carbohydrate is the main macronutrient that helps with muscle recovery and brain activity fuel. Just that….
How do carbohydrates help with muscle recovery?
As mentioned above, carbohydrates are glucose (a form of sugar) which in simple terms through a process called glycogenesis (I had to say it, I wanted to feel smart using this term), the body converts glucose into glycogen. Your muscles use all the glycogen stores during a workout or physical activity for fuel. Ideally, if you have used all the glycogen in your muscles, what do you do? You replenish your muscles with more glycogen (glucose coming from carbs). Think of it like a car that uses regular gas, once the tank is empty you do not leave it empty or put diesel in it, you fill it with regular gas again. The same goes for your body - you use all your glycogen in your muscles, you refeed them with more glycogen.
If according to your size, gender and physical activity you need to eat 1900 calories, you need to break the amount of calories from carbohydrates down and then break it down to grams that you need per day.
Carbohydrates percentage: 40%
1.900 Calories a day x 0.40 (%): 760 calories of carbohydrates
1 gram of Carbohydrates: 4 calories
760 ÷ 4 (calories in a gram of carbohydrate): 190gr of carbohydrates
Once more, if 1900 is your number, you need to be eating around 190 gr or 740 calories coming from carbohydrates a day. Now, 190gr does not mean 190gr of rice, potato, bread, pasta you name it. To give you an idea of how much food is 190gr of carbs, 1 cup of rice (180gr) contains 45gr of carbohydrates. Yes, I know you are thinking that it is crazy, and it is the opposite of what you have been told.
Below you will find possible solutions. It will hopefully give you an idea of how to enjoy carbohydrates without having to worry about weight gain.
Note: if you really want results, you will have to measure your food at least in the beginning. At some point you will get used to it and be able to track measurements by eye. Some approaches may be more rigid than others, but that’s why I am laying it out for you. That way you can choose and use what works better for you.
Tracking calories: As the name implies, you will track the calories coming from the macronutrients (carbs, fats, protein). You do not worry about the consumption of one or the other, here is “calories in, calories out” regardless if your carbs are higher than your protein or your fat is higher than your carbohydrates, as long as you hit your daily calorie intake. It is one of the most efficient ways to stay on track.
Eating mindfully: Eating mindfully means that you are eating a balance of nutritionally dense food until you are satisfied. This requires concentration, eating slowly, zero distractions and you will really need to listen to your body. In my opinion, this is the last option for most of us including me. Do not get me wrong, I am not against it. However, most people including me, do not know how to control themselves. Also, some people’s satisfaction may not even come close to what they actually need and that is when snacking, dizziness, lack of sleep, headaches come into place.
Tracking macronutrients: With this approach you will track every single gram of carbs, protein and fats that you ingest. You of course, first have to know what your caloric intake per day should be before you start tracking your macros. After you have figured the amount of calories that you need per day, then you divide that number depending on the breakdown of macronutrients that you prefer. Yes, you will have to measure and look at every label of the food that you eat.
Carb cycle: Carb cycle consists of ups and downs in terms of carbohydrate consumption. On the low days, you will consume about 60% of the carbohydrates that you actually need to be on a caloric deficit and burn fat. On the other hand, on high carb (not a cheat day, nutritional dense carbs) days you will increase the amount of carbohydrates to about 1.5 times the amount that you would normally need. Yeaaah baby, go big or go home! Personally, I love doing carb cycling because even though it is a form of tracking your macronutrients, your main focus are carbohydrates instead of all three of them. Also, it has other benefits such as: aid with damaged metabolisms from long dieting, repair your muscle tissue, and it is very flexible. How so? Does that mean I can eat Tim Hortons muffins more often? No, let me give you an example. If I know that I will have a family gathering I make sure to plan ahead, stay on track, maybe go an extra low day and leave my high carb day to the day that I have my family gathering and enjoy myself. I am not encouraging you to do it all the time, but once in a while will not harm all that hard work that you are putting in the kitchen and the gym every day. In my opinion this is a good way to make your diet more sustainable and enjoyable.
Whatever you plan on choosing, make sure you pick something that works for you, it is sustainable and enjoyable.
Szalay, J. (2017, July 15). What Are Carbohydrates? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/51976-carbohydrates.html