Meet My Friend, The Carb

Picture of different types of carbohydrates

Say WHO now?!!

Yes, you heard me right, let’s be friend with carbs.

That is, so long as they are the healthy wholesome not-super-processed kind and you’re not devouring all the dinner rolls in the breadbasket (unless you’re an Olympic athlete of course).

Carbophobia

I was inspired to write this post because I too, for a long time, was a fearer of all things starchy and carbohydrate, but after embarking back into my exercise regimen (I got lazy over Christmas), I found that I wasn’t able to get keep with with everyone at Barre Pilates or maintain the pace on my runs. My body was simply fatiguing too quickly. I had no energy and I could actually feel my muscles eating away at themselves! I wasn’t seeing any appreciable results from my training – no increased muscle mass, no fatloss (very disheartening).

I had tried to subscribe to a low-carb diet for a while, even trying Paleo for a bit, but I found it just didn’t work for me. In fact, I gained a ton of weight and couldn’t figure out why! Feeling frustrated, I decided to do some research of my own.

I was eating more than my fair share of nuts and avocados and falling into the common trap of “Oh it’s okay, these are healthy fats, I can have as much as I like”, inadvertently snacking on calorie-dense foods to fill that ‘carb-emptiness’ feeling. What I failed to remind myself was that my body doesn’t actually differentiate between good fats and bad fats (in terms of energy, I’m not talking about heart-health here), and that all fats consumed will be stored as just that – fat. I’m still an advocate of including fats in your diet, just make sure they are good fats and that they are portion controlled.

Quick Carb Science 101

Carbohydrates are converted into glucose in the body to be used as energy. If you eat protein and fat with carbs, your body will use the carbs first, and store the rest. So, Atkins-esque peeps will advocate cutting out carbs to force your body to utilise energy from its body stores (“ketosis”). For me personally, it’s just not a sustainable way to live. I can’t train effectively or be productive at work or in other facets of my life.

We all know we will gain weight if we eat a diet full of creamy pastas and buttery croissants. The weight gain isn’t coming (soley) from the pasta or pastry, but the cream and butter that is being stored as fat because you’ve converted the available carbs to glucose first. So, it’s actually incorrect to say that “carbs are making me fat” – so long as you keep the quality and portions in-check, and keep your body moving, you’ll be fine!

Simply put: When your muscle and liver cells become too full of carbohydrates (ie. your bowl of rice is too big), your body will store the excess carbs as fat on your toosh.

Healthy Carbs

We all need to consume the correct amount of macronutrients (carbs, proteins, fats) for our individual compositions and activity levels. Carbs are essential to our health and wellbeing, what matters most is the type of carbs we eat.

Choose unprocessed, low-GI carbs:**

Picture of a kiwifruit, apple, orange, pear, banana

The Fruits: kiwifruit, apple, orange, pear, banana

Picture of red lentils, beans, peas

The Legumes: red lentils, beans, peas

Picture of Basmati rice, brown rice, cous cous, wholemeal bread, spelt & rye bread, fruit & nut muesli

The Grains: basmati rice, brown rice, cous cous, wholemeal bread, spelt & rye bread (low-gluten), fruit & nut muesli

Picture of pumpkin, corn (fresh), sweet potato

The Veggies: pumpkin, corn (fresh), sweet potato (boiled)

Other options include: Fruits and veggies of course (loaded with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants), soy beans, quinoa, grainy breads, cous cous, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, amaranth..

Not being as active as usual?

Substitute the serve of carbs in your meal with a large serve of green veggies, especially at dinnertime.

Over-indulged a little?

Throw in “Booster Day” into your week. Essentially restrict the amount of carbs consumed, and force your body to turn to its fat stores for energy. But don’t do this for more than one day a week! Your body will go into starvation mode, slow your metabolism right down, and will cling onto every single morsel of food consumed.

Friends for Life

Coming into completing Week #5 of my diet makeover, I can honestly say that I have soaring energy levels, I’m training harder and better than ever, and my recovery time is much shorter. I’m also finally seeing some appreciable results, which is always encouraging.

The key is to feed your body what it needs in order to perform and rejuvenate. It took me a while to figure it all out and what works best for me (it’s hard with all the mixed messages out there). I hope my experience can help you achieve your health and fitness goals also.

Everyone is different, I would love to hear what works for you!

*One serve = 15g carbohydrate

**Some fitness experts say that carbohydrates should be eaten preferably earlier in the day to encourage fat loss and maintain consistent energy levels. Personally I have them in each meal if I am being active, as I really notice the difference in my performance if I skip them (plus I get hungry again quickly), but it’s all about finding what works for you.

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