It’s diet time. A couple months into the new year. A new year which means lots of resolutions that were made in a state of semi-soberness on New Years Eve. And I can probably make a safe bet by saying that most of those resolutions had something to do with weight loss. And if you are talking weight loss you are most likely talking about cleaning up your diet. And if you are talking about cleaning up your diet you are probably talking about going on a low carb diet or cutting back on your carb take. Carbs are to blame for your bulging waistline so the carbs have to go, right? No more breads, no more pasta, no more rice. The low carb ice cream? That can stay. Carbs are evil and they must go! Or do they?
Carbs have been blamed for everything from the obesity epidemic to muffin top syndrome to the poor performance of the stock market to Tom Brady’s struggles in Denver. Not only that, going on a low carb diet has always been the cool thing to do. Nothing may be cooler in fact. It’s also the easy thing to say. Eliminate or cut back on this fat storing macro-nutrient and you’ll be beach body ready and be able to rock those Chubbies in as little as two weeks.
But here’s the deal. Carbs are not as evil as they are made out to be. Carbs are not the only reason why we may be carrying around some extra weight. Cutting back on carbs because it worked for the guy in the next cubicle over who has been living off Filet-o- Fish’s and low fat blueberry muffins the last three years does not necessarily mean it is going to work for you. So let’s go through some misconceptions about carbs, when you might want to eat carbs, when you might not want to eat carbs and how many carbs you might want to be aiming for on a daily basis.
All carbs are not the same: Why have carbs been so easy to blame for weight issues over the last 10 years or so? Well, just take a walk through a grocery store. What do you see lining the shelves? A lot of packaged and processed foods. What do a lot of people rely on? Packaged and processed foods. What do a lot of packaged and processed foods contain? Usually a pretty good dose of carbs per serving. So is that bag of Fritos the problem or is it the carbs that are in the bag of Fritos? Go over to the produce section. You see that fresh whole fruit that is made up of only one ingredient: itself? Let’s not lump the carbs that come with that piece of fruit as the same as the carbs that come from that Fritos bag. Whole food carbs and processed food carbs are not the same thing. A carb is not a carb.
Carbs contain calories and water: Each gram of carbohydrate contains four calories. Drop carbohydrates and you are dropping calories. Go into a caloric deficit and you should lose weight. Increase carb intake and you are increasing your caloric intake if all other macronutrients stay the same. Increase caloric intake and you will gain weight. It is ultimately the change in caloric intake that is responsible for changes in weight. And one of the easy ways to control caloric intake is to control carb intake since carbohydrate foods are more readily available than protein or fat based foods. Also each gram of stored carbohydrate holds onto four grams of water. So if you drop carbs you are not only dropping calories you are dropping water which is a contributor to weight loss.
Carbohydrate timing: When it comes to fat loss there are going to be better times to ingest carbohydrate based foods and other times to stay away from carbohydrate based foods. These timing rules are pretty simple. On days you are not working out limit your carbohydrate intake to mostly fruit and vegetable sources. Days that you do work out can be days to include sources of carbs other than fruits and vegetables such as some starches with your post-workout meal or at dinner. Post-workout carb intake will help replace depleted glycogen stores while carbs ingested later in the day will be stored and used for the next day’s workout. Plus later day carb intake fits in better from a social standpoint. In other words you can enjoy that Friday night get together with your buddies a little more. The other plus to having carbs later in the day, especially if you have a simple carb such as white rice with dinner, you will find that you sleep much better. Don’t trust me? Talk to someone who is on a low carb diet (under 50 grams a day) and ask them how they are sleeping. So when it comes down to carbohydrate timing it really boils down to this: “Your carbs must be earned.”
Carbohydrate numbers: Maybe you want to be a bit more specific with your carb intake. So how many grams of carbohydrates should you be consuming on a daily basis? There are going to be a few factors that are going to determine this number: your body composition, your activity levels and whether fat loss or muscle gain is your goal. The numbers that I recommend for carbohydrate intake come from strength coach Jason Ferrugia. If you are over 15% body fat and whether fat loss or muscle gain is your goal your carb intake should be around 100 grams per day on training days and limited to just green vegetables and one serving of fruit on non-training days. If you are under 15 percent body fat and fat loss is your goal aim for 1g of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight on training days and 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight on on non-training days. If you are under 15 percent body fat and muscle gain is your goal aim for 2 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight on training days and 1 gram per pound of bodyweight on non-training days. And as mentioned before, as far as what time of day to get those carbs in aim to get most of them in post-workout and later in the day.
So there we have it. Some simple carbs rules to think about and possibly follow without driving yourself and the others around you nuts. And remember, carbs themselves are not usually the culprit when it comes to weight gain. Poor food choices as a whole are usually the culprit. Focus more on good choices, less on carb intake levels and those resolutions just may hold up.