First and foremost, you do not need to avoid carbs in order to lose fat. I am almost certain that at some stage, the majority of you reading this have come across someone, if not yourself who has avoided carbohydrates or ‘carbs’ in the hope of losing weight.
Growing up with a Western diet I think it would be quite hard to sustain this as we have been brought up on these foods since we were little. I mean, who’s dinner plate didn’t have potatoes on it growing up in Ireland??
Just the same as protein and fats – carbohydrates will not cause you to gain weight, however, overating carbohydrate rich foods beyond your recommended calorie intake may lead to just that.
Why are carbohydrates important?
People who exercise regularly and people who want to keep their brain functioning well need carbs in their diet. They give us energy to exercise, help us recover from exercise as well as helping to shuttle nutrients and proteins into our muscles. There are ways that you can incorporate carbs into your diet that can maximise their benefits and this can be done through better carb food choices, portion sizes and timing.
It is also very important we consume carbs in order to keep our thyroids in check. If you are following a very low carb diet over a long period of time, you can down-regulate your thyroid function. This basically means you are at more risk of lowering your metabolic rate which in turn slows down fat loss, which obviously is not ideal if that is your goal.
Exercise is glycogen depleting, which means you should re-fuel with good carb sources post-workout if possible.
What foods should you eat?
There are more carbohydrate sources than just bread, pasta, rice and potatoes. You should actually get the majority of your carbohydrates from a variety of vegetables and fruit, depending on your goal and training schedule.
You can still eat bread and pasta, however choosing carb foods such as oats and potatoes would be more beneficial from a nutrition content point of view. Keep the less nutrient dense foods to a minimum in your diet especially if fat loss is your goal.
Listen to your body, if you find that certain starchy carbs are making you feel lethargic or giving you cravings, then maybe you need to look at when you are eating them. If you have a huge bowl of pasta or rice for lunch and find that you get the 2 o’clock slump where all you want to do is take a nap, then starchy carbs are not working for you for lunch.
Switch to having them for dinner or later in the evening when you will be getting tired before bed anyway. White bread, pasta etc can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels which can then drop, leaving you feeling sleepy, or it can bring on some sugary cravings post-lunch. Again, listen to your body next time either of these happen to you and look back on what you ate to see if that could be the cause.
Keep those starchy foods to around your training when they will benefit you and help restore glycogen stores post-workout.
How many carbohydrates should you eat?
If you aren’t sure how many calories you should be eating per day you can use the Harris-Benedict equation here to input your details and it can give you a rough idea of where to start. Otherwise, aim to get around 1.2 – 3.3g carbohydrates per kg of bodyweight per day.
The amount will depend on how much training you do, i.e., if it’s alot then aim for the higher end of the scale.
Obviously that is just a guideline if you have no idea where to start; remember everyone is different and certain people will react differently to certain foods. Tweak your foods as you go along depending on your energy levels, quality of sleep, hunger levels and how you feel overall.