Carbs are not bad! (but too much of anything is never good).
Let’s be honest here. Carbs have gotten a bit of a bad rep lately. There’s Keto EVERYTHING in the stores, lots of books about low carb/no carb diets and have you heard of the carnivore diet?
It can be very easy to overdo it on carbs, but living a healthy lifestyle does not necessarily mean you need to swear a vow against bread, potatoes or even pasta.
Carbs are the most readily available source of energy in the body. They are the fuel your body WANTS to burn.
In a 2013 study of soccer players, half of the study participants were given a high carb diet and half were given a low carb diet. All participants reported that they felt good and had lots of energy for their sport. However, the players in the high carb group covered significantly more distance at higher speeds than the lower carb athletes.
The main point of the study? You may be feeling great and athletically prepared. BUT if you are not eating enough carbs you may not realize your full potential.
Benefits of carbs:
* provide energy for your workouts
*helps with brain function, memory and mood
*provides fiber to help you poop, and decrease risk of chronic disease
The Good vs. The Bad
As a general rule, carbohydrates that are in their natural, fiber-rich form are healthy. If you can pick it from the ground or a tree, it’s probably a good choice!
If it's a whole, single ingredient food, then it's probably a healthy food for most people, no matter what the carbohydrate content is.
Things are rarely ever black and white in nutrition, but in general, “bad” carbs can include
- Sugary drinks: Coca cola, Pepsi, Vitamin water, etc. Sugary drinks are some of the unhealthiest things you can put into your body.
- Fruit juices: Unfortunately, fruit juices may have similar metabolic effects as sugar-sweetened beverages.
- White bread: These are refined carbohydrates that are low in essential nutrients and bad for metabolic health. This applies to most commercially available breads.
- Pastries, cookies and cakes: These tend to be very high in sugar and refined wheat.
- Ice cream: Most types of ice cream are very high in sugar, although there are exceptions.
- Candies and chocolates: If you’re going to eat chocolate, choose quality dark chocolate (don't cut chocolate out of your life. EVER ;-)
Examples of good carbs
- Vegetables: All of them. It is best to eat a variety of vegetables every day.
- Whole fruits: Apples, bananas, strawberries, etc.
- Legumes: Lentils, kidney beans, peas, etc.
- Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, etc.
- Seeds: Chia seeds, pumpkin seeds.
- Whole grains: Choose grains that are truly whole, as in pure oats, quinoa, brown rice, etc.
- Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.
We still need to make sure we are not getting too much of a good thing. There are two easy ways to handle portion control at meals when it comes to carbs (if you are an endurance athlete, that's a different ball game).
The Plate Method: This is a simple but effective way to begin with healthy eating and portion control. ¼ of your plate is reserved for carbs, ¼ for protein and ½ of your plate for non-starchy vegetables (think green veggies or salad). This does not mean you should make a skyscraper out of mashed potatoes on your ¼ of the plate ;-)
The Hand Method:
Research has shown that using hand measurements is 97% as effective as measuring with a kitchen scale. In general, a serving of carbohydrates for each person is about the size of a cupped handful.
The bottom line…don't break up with carbs! In the right amounts they can be your secret weapon to fuel your workouts and all the amazing things you want to do outside of the gym.