What are carbs and why do we need them? Let’s find out…
Found in a wide range of foods, carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet. Their main function is to generate energy, providing the body with glucose which is converted to support bodily functions and physical activity. Just like calories, many people villainize carbs, but they’re a key part of nutrition and will help you achieve your goal when utilised properly and not abused. The type of carb you choose to eat plays a big part in the success of your plan.
Do carbs make you fat?
Any macronutrient (protein, fat or carbs) that’s eaten in excess, however, will make you fat. It’s useful to know that 1 gram of glucose from carbohydrates carries around 3 grams of water, so if you eat a pizza on Friday night and weigh yourself on Saturday morning, you will be heavier. This isn’t because you’ve put on fat, you’ve just retained more water.
How many carbs should you eat?
Your overall goal will influence how many carbs you should eat a day. For muscle gain, on non training days aim to eat 0.5 grams to 1 gram of carbs per pound of body weight per day. On days you’re training, aim to eat 2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight, as you’ll require that little bit more energy. If you’re on a fat loss programme, cut the carbs to 50-100 grams per day depending on your body type for optimal results.
When should you eat carbs?
This all depends on your goal, but usually, eating carbs after training is best. When you exercise, you deplete your body of things like glucose and glycogenin, which are found in carbs, so consuming them immediately after training is better for you in the long run.
If you’re training for fat loss and want to get your energy levels up before a workout, a couple of rice cakes or something small would work, followed by the bulk of your carbs after the session is finished. Aim to get 50% off your total daily carbs consumed post workout.
Carbs to suit your diet
On the whole, weight loss programmes favour low carb diets as it’s a very easy macronutrient to pull out. Both fats and protein serve important roles in your body, so you can’t limit them too much, whereas carbs can be removed from your diet and your body will adapt to function on a lower supply. It can be tough sticking to low amounts of carbs correctly, so we recommend starting off on the carb cycle diet to help improve your results.
Typically, the leaner you are, the more carbs you can eat. If you’re lean and aiming to lose weight, carbs will help you adhere to your diet and get past sticking points.
The protein-sparing effect
Carbs are also protein sparing, which allows the body to use protein to build, repair and preserve muscle mass rather than using it as a source of energy. Therefore, to gain muscle, it’s essential to have carbs in your diet as they’re used as the main source of energy, allowing protein to do its job.
The more complex the carb, the better
Not all carbs are made the same, so it’s good to know the difference between complex and simple carbohydrates. The faster a carb is broken down in your system, the more it spikes your blood sugar levels. Although this can be beneficial for some, more often than not most people want to keep their blood sugar levels at a stable rate as the high peaks and low troughs of blood sugar can lead to diabetes and poor glucose management on the whole. This is why you should limit the amount of carbs that are broken down quickly, i.e. simple carbs, and eat more complex, starchy carbs like potatoes or rice as these are broken down and turn into energy at a slower rate.
Just like protein, keep in mind the quality and type of carbs you’re consuming. Some sources of carbs are healthier than others, so choosing non-processed whole grains, rice, sweet potato or oats are much better than options such as white bread, french fries or pastries.
The gluten found in carbs such as pasta and cake can also cause food sensitivities and intolerances in some people. This is due to the body not being able to break down one of the main protein molecules it carries, gliadin, triggering symptoms like bloating and cramps. Again, lower GI carbs such as rice and sweet potato are much better options to avoid intolerances.
Carbs to limit…
- Pastries/baked goods
- Sugary cereals
- White bread/pasta
- Processed snacks
- Sugary drinks
Try these healthy carbs…
- Brown/white rice
- Gluten free oats
- Sweet potato
- Fruit (dark and thin skin e.g. berries)
The calories in carbs
Similar to protein, carbohydrates equal 4 calories per 1 gram, for example, 100 grams of carbs would equal 400 calories. This is useful to know if you’re tracking calories or are on a specific nutrition plan.