Hey Ladies,


Today we’re talking everything carbs, arguably the most controversial of all the macros…


Are you:

Trying to change your body composition?

Training more than once or twice a week?

Working towards fat loss?

You need carbs! Read on to find out why...


There are three macronutrient groups – macros for short: protein, carbohydrate, and fat. Each one is important and should be included in your diet, although the amounts and ratios of each macro depends on your goals, body type, and personal preferences. For my guide to the basics of counting your macros, click here.


Carbohydrates are a contentious topic in nutrition. A lot of people blame carbs for weight gain and may go so far as to eliminate them from their diet to speed up fat loss. The food industry supports this point of view by manufacturing low carb foods. In many ways this makes a lot of sense. Excess carbs are easily converted into fat and their presence can inhibit fat loss.


But, does this mean you should eliminate carbs from your diet? Nope!


While very low carb and no carb diets CAN work, they are not usually sustainable for long, and can leave you tired and weak, both physically and mentally and in the short and long term. Some people can become unwell on low carb diets. It’s also important to remember that many carb-rich foods are ‘nutrient dense, this means they are important sources of vitamins, minerals, and fibre.


To understand why your body needs carbs, it’s useful to know a little more about how it uses carbohydrates.



The fate of dietary carbs


When you eat carbs e.g. pasta, potatoes, rice, fruit, vegetables, etc., they are digested and broken down into glucose molecules. That glucose is then stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen (the storage form of glucose) for later use or used for instant energy. Some glucose also remains in your blood.


Carbohydrates are essential for high intensity physical activity such as lifting weights and doing interval or circuit training. They are also used to a lesser extent during lower intensity activities such as cardio training.


The more active you are, the more carbohydrates your body needs. If, for example, you exercise most days of the week, you should include reasonable amounts of carbs in your diet to provide your muscles with the fuel they need. This can range from 30 to 60% or more of your daily calorie intake.


Too few carbs could leave you feeling fatigued and unable to train as hard or as long as you want to. Yes, your body does also use fat for fuel, but fat alone is not a good source of energy for intense exercise – your muscles need carbs too.


On the downside, if you consume more carbs than you need, any unused glucose is converted to fat and then stored in your adipose cells. Once carbs are converted to fat, they must then be burnt as fat; fat stores cannot be turned back into carbs.


This all means that while very low carb diets are an effective way to lose weight for sedentary people, they are not often the best choice for exercisers. This is why my meal plans follow a diet that contains adequate carbs for the level of physical activity included in my training plans, which ranges from 4-6 days a week.



Not all Carbs were Created Equal


There are several different sources of carbs out there, and they are normally separated into two main groups. There are complex carbs, that are longer chains of sugar molecules linked together. These are slowly broken down by the body and produce a more sustained release of energy. Then there are simple carbs that consist of much shorter chains, which are quickly digested and released into the bloodstream, resulting in blood sugar spikes. These tend to be foods that are more processed, such as white bread and baked goods like cakes and treats.


In general, it is the complex carbs that our bodies prefer as a fuel source. They keep us going for longer and help us avoid energy (and mood) crashes that we get when we eat simple carbs. The best sources of complex carbs are often also nutrient dense, my favorites are brown rice, sweet potato, oats, quinoa and whole grain bread.


Fibre


Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that the body cannot digest. This is why, when you read the label on foods, fibre falls underneath carbohydrates. It is included in the total, but the Calories the fiber contributes are not absorbed by the body, hence they are not added to your total daily calories consumed. Fibre helps regulate how the body digests the sugars in carbohydrates, ensuring we get that slow release of energy, as well aids general digestion and helps us feel satiated (full). Once again, complex carbohydrates tend to be the foods that have a higher fibre content, as well as fruits, vegetables and legumes.



Getting the most from carbs – it’s in the timing!


If you want to consume carbs selectively and at strategic times of the day, you can potentially harness their power with decreased conversion of carbs into fat stores. You can also opt to have higher carb days on the days where your physical activity levels are higher.


To make sure you have the energy you need for exercise, consume carbs 1-2 hours before training. This will ensure your blood glucose and muscle glycogen levels are topped up, but your stomach is empty. After exercise, your muscle glycogen stores will be depleted. The degree of depletion depends on how hard and how long you trained. In addition, your carbohydrate and insulin sensitivity will have increased. This means your body is crying out for carbs.



Carbohydrates consumed after exercise are preferentially shunted into your muscle and liver cells and away from your fat cells. This enhances recovery so that you are ready to train again sooner. Insulin sensitivity remains elevated for 1-2 hours after exercise which is plenty of time to consume a carb-rich snack or meal to boost recovery. The rest of the day, or on rest days, when you are mostly sedentary and your insulin sensitivity tends to be lower as well as your total energy needs, so you don’t need so many carbs. It makes sense to reduce your carb intake at these times.


My Top Carb sources:

  • ● Quinoa

  • ● Sweet potato

  • ● Wild or brown rice

  • ● Vegetables in general

  • ● Legumes



Carbs are not evil! They are, in fact, a very important food group. Instead of giving up carbs, try timing them around exercise so you can harness their power. If you want to follow a similar diet to me or need a helping hand to get your nutrition dialed, check out the meal plans I have available. Or if you feel your nutrition is on point but you could get more out of your training, take a look at my training plans.


Stay tuned for more information around macronutrients in the coming weeks, or follow me on @LaurenSimpsonFitness for daily motivation, education and advice!