Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Are CARBS out to get you?

Carbohydrates were the golden child in the 80's and 90's. Prior to that, the only people who cared about them were those exercise wacko's like Jack Lalanne. But over the past 10 years they have quickly gotten a bad rap as being a fat storing monster that only serves to add to back fat and a spare tire.

But what if our culture has now all of a sudden completely over-reacted to a few studies with headlines such as, "CARBS STORE FAT" and "CARBOHYDRATES ARE BEHIND YOUR GROWING BEHIND!"

After all, we are an overreacting type of society. Is it possible this has happened again? Probably.

The truth is carbohydrates are not out to get you. They simply provide energy for our body. That's it. It is our responsibility as to how we are going to use them.

Here we are going to discuss some of the better functions of carbohydrates and how you SHOULD use them.

Carbohydrates are only a source of energy. They fuel movement, living, breathing and rebuilding. Carbohydrates are basically the construction workers of our body. (To further the analogy, protein would be the cement/bricks/material the construction workers use).

But not all carbohydrates are the same. They are categorized as simple, semi-simple and complex carbohydrates. All carbohydrates have an insulin response. Because insulin is simply an energy transport hormone. It will put the carbohydrates to work wherever there is a need.

Extra carbs won't go home. They go to your hips instead.
Our muscles and liver store carbohydrates for use throughout the day. However, sometimes we eat more carbohydrates than we have room for. Think of its a construction job site. If there is work to be done, there you will obviously put more workers. But when the work slows down on a construction site, they usually tell some of the workers to head home. Your body can't do that with carbohydrates. If you eat too many carbohydrates, your body will simply start storing them as fat.

So like  a construction site, when you get too many workers and not enough work to be done, you get workers standing around. And usually they all huddle together to chit chat. Your body does this too. Its called adipose tissue, or in other words, body fat.

So we really have to be careful that we eat enough carbohydrates to fuel exercise and repair, but not so much that we store the extra energy as fat. 

What are some strategies to accomplish this? 

The first step is to educate yourself about food. Most people don't know how many calories are in a slice of bread much less those mashed potatoes they are eating for dinner. So start looking at nutritional labels on the foods you buy. Also you can keep track of what you eat on websites such as or There are also smart phone apps that can be used as well.

Next you need to know how big your fuel tank is, so to speak. How big are your carbohydrate stores and how full are they at any given moment? Well most people can store upwards of 400g of carbs between their muscle and liver stores. However, a major factor in how much you can eat is dependent on your activity level. The more active you are, the more carbs you NEED to eat to fuel the activity and replenish energy stores. Use 200g/day as a baseline load and then you can add more if you have a more active lifestyle.

Now lets put that information to use. Lets assume that when we wake up in the morning, our carbohydrate stores are about 90% depleted from the 7-8 hour fast we call sleep. This puts us at 20g of stored energy. Now this doesn't mean you get to go eat 180g of carbohydrates (remember you need energy throughout the day, not just in the morning). Instead aim to keep carbohydrates to between 20-30g per meal (a large salad or a slice of bread's worth). If we eat 5 meals per day, this gives us 100-150 g of carbohydrate intake over the course of the day. Not bad.

Next we consider our exercise intensity and quantity. Most exercise such as our Hi-5 FitCamp will pretty much deplete energy stores by the end of the workout (300-600 calories burned). So we need to not only fuel the rebuilding of muscle, but also now the energy stores need to be replenished. This means that after workouts, we can have upwards of 50-80g of carbohydrates (a whole bagel or large bowl of oatmeal).

Be responsible for your food choices.
Granted this was a long post. But you need to understand that carbohydrates are necessary. But they must be kept under control. Less is not better, more is not best. Optimal is best. And this really depends on your physical activity levels and personal decisions. At some point you have to take responsibility for what you are putting in your mouth. 

To be safe, I recommend that people simply trade grain products (high in carbs) for greens/veggies and fruits (lower in carbs). This way you don't have to go counting calories. Instead can simply say no to the bread and ask for a second serving of veggies with that large steak!

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