Carbohydrates get a bad rap. If you are concerned about your weight, you've probably spent some time searching on Google, only to find you are more confused then ever. I know I was. You probably found references to low carb diets, no carb diets, ketogenic diets, paleo diets, south beach diets and more. After extensive research, I would like to share with you a better way to think about this; The Good Carb Diet. First let's get started with examining the science behind carbohydrates (CHO) and its role in the body.
It's no secret (Or is it?) that your body needs CHO's to function in an optimal manner. They are the primary energy source for the production of ATP in your muscles and therefore linked to physical activity. More on that later. CHO's are in all food that you consume such as vegetables, proteins (in the form of glycogen), and grains. In all of them. Let that sink in. CHO's come in 3 basic categories: monosaccharides (fructose, galactose ,glucose), disaccharides (lactose, maltose, sucrose, trehalose), and polysaccharides (cellulose, glycogen, starch) or complex carbohydrates. Of the 3, you should focus on the complex carbohydrates, which are normally high in fiber and nutrient dense, and reduce your consumption of the first two. This is the key to The Good Carb Diet.
Now it is scientific fact that your body will convert excess carbs to triglycerides, which is then stored as fat in adipose tissue. (think of your belly) This is due mainly to the amount of carbs that you consume but also (and more importantly) the type of carbs that you consume. This is due to the glycemic response of the body when sugars (from carbs) enter the blood and importantly how fast. When your pancreas detects high levels of glucose, it stimulates the release of insulin, which is in proportion to the amount of simple sugar in the bloodstream. The over release of insulin is linked not only to diabetes but also obesity. Therefore the goal of The Good Carb Diet is to slow down the release of glucose by your digestive system and in turn control the release of insulin. This is accomplished by consuming more foods with a Low Glycemic Index. As easy as it sounds, There are some key considerations on how to implement this in your daily life
1. Cutting most of the processed carbs and sugar from your diet
As alluded to before in 3 things to stop right now, this is the first step. Cut most of the processed food from your diet. Food items high in processed carbs and sugar are the enemy. Notice I said most, because as a hedonist we will have to break this rule every now and again for a little shot of pleasure. But not too much. This step alone will reduce your glycemic load and go a long way to improving your health and may be linked to weight loss depending on your activity levels and the rest of your diet.
2. Eating more high fiber, low GI foods and cross-referencing this with the Satiety Index
Low GI foods leave you feeling fuller longer, ease food cravings and provide you with greater and more sustained energy levels. If you’re looking to either lose weight or maintain your existing weight, then low GI is very useful. Linked to this is the Satiety Index (SI) or a measurement on how "full" a food makes you feel, causing you to eat less. It is important to note that generally foods with a low GI also have a high SI. These are also commonly referred to as complex carbs. The bottom line? Eat more of these foods and less of processed foods. From now on when I refer to carbs I am only taking about complex carbohydrates.
3. Utilise the Net Carbs Equation
The net carbs equation is simply:
Total Carbohydrates - Dietary Fiber = Net Carbs.
This is useful because fiber has the effect of slowing down your digestion, therefore slowing down glucose release therefore slowing down insulin release. Savvy? The more fiber, the slower the process, so always be on the lookout for high fiber foods. I will produce a list for you in the near future. Do note again that both low GI and high SI foods tend to be high in fiber. Hmmmm. I am beginning to see a pattern here.
4. Eating carbs according to activity levels
What I find is always lacking in exploring carbohydrates, is the link to activity level. Many of the so called low carb diets fail to explain that your need for carbs is highly dependant on what you do. Since carbohydrates are the prime source of ATP production it does make sense to monitor your carb intake depending on what you do. Let's define activity levels in 4 stages and link that to appropriate carb consumption:
- Sedentary - meaning minimum activity levels, mostly sitting down. If this describes you then low carb is probably the way to go. And cut all processed food. And get off the sofa. Aim for 50-100 grams of carbs per day.
- Passive - Also referred to daily activity levels (DAL) or physical activity levels (PAL). Used as a baseline measurement on top of your resting metabolic rate, these are things you do everyday such as walking around, climbing stairs, household chores, etc. These activities are associated with additional calorie burning. An easy way to get started on your health journey is to up those activities. In this case a low carb diet will help promote weight loss. Again aim for 50-100 grams per day.
- Active - defined as active exercise either resistance or cardio or both. The minute you strap on your running shoes or hit the gym, you should recalibrate your carb needs to fuel your workout. There is nothing quite so bad as hitting the gym and crashing due to lack of energy. In this case, a moderate carb consumption before and after your workout may be in order, although this varies based on the intensity of your workout. Aim for 100-150 grams per day, with more on your workout days and less on recovery days.
- Very active - defined as either heavy endurance (like a marathon or heavy strength training (like body building or power lifting). You will need more carbs to fuel the extreme effort of these activities and avoid hitting the wall. As you are burning tons of calories you needn't worry too much here. Aim for more to reduce your fatigue, although honestly I am not sure how much more as I don't participate in these activities. Yet.
5. Exercise strict portion control
If you are going to limit your carb intake then you need to exercise portion control otherwise it is impossible to stay with the chosen range of consumption. The other consideration for portion control is when you eat out at restaurants or in social situation. portion control will help you limit the consumption of refined carbs. Even if you are counting those carbs as a "cheat meal."
On a personal note:
My reading of this comes from extensive personal experience and experimentation. I noticed that when eating a low carb diet (in the 50-100) range I was comfortable in sedentary, passive and low intensity active activity levels , but the minute I began to up my intensity, I began to lose energy, miss reps and not be able to push my self much farther to progress especially since I use a system called progressive loading. When I upped my carb level to the 100-150 range for work out days (especially pre workout) these problems disappeared.
The good carb diet as a formula would look like this:
Complex Carbohydrates - Dietary Fiber + Activity Levels = The Good Carb Diet
Have a question? I know I have several myself. Hahaha. Feel free to comment below or connect with me. If you enjoy this please help me share the word.