Something I recently talked to Katie about is the awkwardness that comes with being a personal trainer / fitness junkie at dinner parties, pot-lucks or happy hours. The host is jittery with the nervous excitement that comes with having their friends/colleagues over for an event and the attendees are hyped to see their peers while they eat, drink and hopefully go home with the correct person.
Then, in comes the personal trainer. Suddenly the host is trembling for fear of how they will react to their being full-fat buffalo chicken dip on the table or that there’s not one but TWO kinds of dessert offerings. Those in attendance are now suddenly watching their calorie count lest the trainer fat-shame them for indulging at a social gathering.
What they don’t know is if that personal trainer in the room is me (or any other sane PT), I'm wanting to sample both desserts, will cover everything on my plate with the buffalo chicken dip, I probably want a beer and don't give a damn about what or how much anyone else is eating.
There will be nervous jokes about “this doesn’t have calories, right!?” and “You’ll probably want to skip this because of the …”
“... of the …”
I don’t blame the average Joes of the world for being ill-informed on the importance of carbohydrates -- they’ve been a common enemy of the diet industry for the last two decades. And with so much faulty information on the internet about what you should do about your carb intake, it can be intimidating and downright frustrating to figure out exactly how you’re supposed to feel about them.
So let me change that today. Let’s talk about Carbs!
What are Carbs?
Carbs cannot be reduced to simply bread and potatoes. Carbs also cannot be erroneously referred to as the devil and they must not be demonized as the single biggest reason such a huge portion of Americans are obese. No, Carbohydrates are merely macronutrients -- nutrients that the body must have in large quantities daily.
Carbs are not something the body can make on its own, however, so we have to supplement our body’s natural processes by consuming them (eating them). And this is necessary because Carbs are the body’s primary source of energy. The body converts Carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar) that is used as readily available energy throughout the day. And glucose that doesn’t get used immediately is stored in the liver and muscle cells as glycogen, the body’s backup source of energy.
There are three types of Carbohydrates that fall between two categories: Complex Carbs (or Carbs that are not broken down easily) and Simple Carbs (Carbs that are broken down easily.) Your complex carbs are known as Starches and Fibers.
Starches contain micronutrients (or nutrients the body needs in smaller amounts, AKA vitamins and minerals) that are required for a variety of bodily functions. These are typically found in legumes, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain items.
Fiber is a complex Carb that primarily aids in digestion. It cannot be broken down by the body but as it passes through the digestive system, it helps regulate blood sugar, lowers cholesterol, makes you feel fuller longer and helps you poop better! You’ll typically find good fiber in beans, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products as well as nuts and seeds.
Sugars, on the other hand, are Simple Carbs. They have the ability to drastically affect blood sugar by causing it to quickly spike, then crash just as fast. When kids have their sugar rushes because they’ve had too much candy or you feel like taking a nap at your desk after consuming two donuts for breakfast, you’re experiencing a drastic blood sugar crash caused by the fast spike. While there are natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables, we get most of our sugars from processed foods like candies, cakes and sodas. And even though starches and fibers can -- and do -- affect blood sugar levels, the simplicity of sugars makes them have a more drastic effect, therefore they are most frequently associated with Type 2 Diabetes.
Should I Cut Carbs Out?
The Atkins Diet and Keto are both very successful diet strategies and both demonize the consumption of Carbs. And I just told you that Simple Carbohydrates are frequently to blame for Type 2 Diabetes, so does it follow that we should cut Carbs out if we want to lose weight and get healthier?
The short answer is no. A longer answer is no, not even close.
As I stated above, while Carbs may be to blame for spikes in blood sugar and Type 2 Diabetes, these faults caused by over-consumption of Carbs must not outweigh their energetic and digestive benefits. While the body does have the ability to convert fat and even proteins to usable energy, they are not the body’s preferred source of energy.
So why do so many people get healthier after being on the Atkins or Keto diets? Two words: Calorie Deficit. Pseudoscience can point to anti-Carb philosophies and demonize pizza and prioritize ketosis and the frequent consumption of lettuce wraps as the magic pills for success but at the end of the day, people lose weight on Keto and Atkins because they’re consuming fewer calories.
Honestly, if you ate only pizza -- the high-Carb, high-Fat treat everyone on the planet loves -- but you ate fewer calories than your maintenance level, you’re going to lose weight. Likewise, if you refuse to eat a single carb, yet you eat a surplus of calories made of protein and fat, you’re going to gain weight. That’s just science. You know, actual science derived from studies involving independent participants and not associated with a conglomerate and published in peer-reviewed publications.
JohnDoesKeto dot net is not scientifically backed. Neither is that giant Atkins Diet book your mom owns. I’m sorry to break the news to you like this.
To put the nail in this coffin: if you want to eat Carbs, then eat them. The body needs them for energy and digestion and they’re delicious.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
Kind of a half-assed commitment of me to tell you that you should eat Carbs but only in moderation then not tell you how many that actually is, no?
Well, if that upset you, you’re not going to like this, either: there is no magic number that works for the majority of the population when it comes to just how many Carbs one needs to consume during the day.
When it comes to nutrition, I always start my clients on the easiest path possible -- calorie counting. Eat a reduced number of calories and you’ll lose weight. If you’re strength training (which you should be), I’ll have you counting your Protein macro shortly thereafter.
The next step in the evolution would possibly include the vague percentages set by MyPlate or MyFitnessPal. Once a client has a grasp on how to track their calories and Protein, then want to go to the next level, I’ll set their Fat macro. Protein and Fat are both calculated based on a person’s bodyweight. Eat a certain number of calories made of Protein, a certain number of calories made of Fat, then the rest of your nutrition can be made up of quality (complex) Carbs.
Since everyone’s body weight and goals are different, it then follows that the number of Carbs one should be eating will be unique to the individual.
If you’d like 1:1 nutrition coaching so you’ll know how many Carbs you should be consuming, I know a guy that would be more than happy to help you with that! Hit me up here on my website for more information or to sign up for coaching calls!
Stay tuned for more nutrition posts, including more information than you ever wanted to know about Fat and at some point, how we put this all together.
Until then, Ever Onward fellow Heathens.