Weight Loss and Carbohydrates – Ending the Confusion

complex carbohydratesIf you’re like many people these days, you might be confused about carbohydrates.  Questions come to mind like, are carbohydrates good or bad for you, will carbohydrates make you gain weight, and what about carbohydrates for athletic people?

Carbohydrates are not all created alike and in order to understand how and when to fit them into our daily diets, it is crucial to understand what happens within our bodies when we consume them.  Carbohydrates are the best source of energy for your body, especially for muscle, brain and central nervous system functions.  In the body, all carbohydrates are broken down into glucose.  Once in the bloodstream, glucose is taken up by the cells and used for fuel, stored in the liver or muscle as glycogen, or converted to fat for later use.

I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials by now, the ones that say the secret to effective fat loss is the glycemic index.  The glycemic index classifies foods, showing the rate at which a carbohydrate breaks down into sugar or glucose in the bloodstream.  High glycemic foods (71-100gi) are considered fast acting because they release glucose into the bloodstream quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar.  This in turn signals the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that removes excess sugar from the bloodstream and signals the body to store fat.  Low to moderate glycemic foods (0-70) release glucose into the bloodstream slowly and provide the brain and body with prolonged and constant energy.

And what about low-carb diets?  Low-carbohydrate diets serve a specific purpose for a distinct portion of the population.  They were devised to help overweight and obese people lose body mass in order to improve their health.  They were not targeting the active, athletic community.  One of the goals of the low-carb diet is to chronically deprive the body of carbohydrates.  If you’ve ever been on this type of diet and tried to complete your work-out successfully but were unable, it was most likely because your energy stores were depleted and unable to train effectively.

So how and when should you eat carbohydrates?  The best way to eat carbohydrates is with a protein and it’s naturally occurring fat content.  When proteins and fats are eaten with high or moderate glycemic foods, they slow down absorption of the carbohydrates and therefore help prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, thus reducing the odds of fat storage.  For example, a baked potato (high gi) eaten with a piece of chicken, fish or lean steak is great.

So how do you lose body fat yet still have enough energy for your work outs and an active schedule?  The key is to have the right kinds of carbs at the right times because carbs are energy and if you don’t burn the energy, the excess will be stored as fat.  Stick with moderate or low-glycemic index carbohydrates, and only have enough to fuel your day’s activities and workouts.  Have the majority of your carbohydrates early in the day and then taper them into the afternoon.  If you are exercising, especially doing weight resistance exercise, make sure you have eaten within 90 minutes of your workout and your pre-workout meal includes some protein and carbohydrates. The best post workout recovery meal/snack is in liquid form – think smoothie or shake – with 2:1 carb/protein ratio.  There are limited times when it is suggested that you consume simple carbohydrates –  first thing in the morning after a night of fasting (sleeping) and  following a weight training workout.  At this time, your body is severely depleted of glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and glucose.  Having simple carbs after a tough workout will allow you to avoid muscle breakdown by having the correct post workout recovery meal.

So there you have it; no more confusion about weight loss and carbohydrates.  Carbohydrates provide the body with important nutrients that are quickly converted to energy.  Consume the right kind of carbs at the right times and you will reach your weight loss goals.