You might have read or heard friends talk about reducing or eliminating carbohydrates in their diet. It’s an increasingly popular topic which will more often than not come up when weight management and fat loss are mentioned. There are plenty of detailed research and technical discussions out there that may overload your brain and even confuse you, so my aim with this article is to simplify and help you understand the subject matter more so you can achieve your workout, health or fitness goals.
First thing you need to know is what carbohydrates (carbs) are. On a most basic level they can either be a type of sugar, fiber or starch found in food. Truth is everything we eat will have more or less carbs in it, it’s just a matter of the quality and quantity. With the exception of fiber, carbs are digested and converted into a type of sugar to be released into our bloodstream called glucose. Our body uses glucose as a primary energy source for everything we do whilst also playing the crucial role of supplying energy to crucial organs like our brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, etc. The rate of which glucose is created is greatly dependent on the quality of the carb which will be elaborated below.
One important thing to remember is that we also get energy from the protein and fats in food. It becomes more and more important that you manage your food types and intake levels as the last thing you want is an oversupply of unused energy.
I categorize the quality of carbs as either good or bad because of the possible effect they will have on your body respectively, and it is easiest to explain this way. Good carbs will have a sustained release of glucose into the bloodstream meaning you will have a chance to burn off that energy steadily over a period of time. Bad carbs will result in spikes of glucose release meaning too much energy will be available at a time which can turn into body fat if unused.
Food made up primarily of good carbs are those which are beneficial to overall health and/or generally have a low Glycemic Index (GI). Most fruits and vegetables are necessary in any diet due to their nutrients and vitamins so they’re a must, whilst whole grain foods such as whole rolled oats, whole grain bread and brown rice get the ok too in moderation. The common theme here is foods that have been minimally processed and contain natural ingredients.
Now for the bad carbs, food comprised highly of starch and sugar like white rice, white bread, pasta, soft drinks, sweets and anything derived from potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes) are generally evil if weight loss is your focus. Not only do they supply massive amounts of energy from a relatively small portion size, the conversion to glucose is very quick, causing your insulin to spike*. Having an abundance of energy isn’t exactly useful after lunch or dinner unless you’re planning to run a marathon straight after or just want to be overweight (are you mad?). It’s an easy choice, steer clear of those “bad carb” types of foods and find an alternative instead.
*Insulin levels and sensitivity is another important related topic but I’ll save that for another day
As someone important once upon a time may have once said, “Everything is fine but in moderation” and I couldn’t agree more. Even if you’ve found good substitutions for your bad carb food, don’t overdo it as everything we eat still ends up as expendable energy at the end of the day. This leads onto the important concept behind successful weight management and fat loss – you want to consume (or consume less) as much as you can burn in a day.
Can you cut out carbs completely then? Sure you could, but how long could you really sustain it? Might be beneficial short term if you’re shredding in preparation for a competition but you can’t ignore the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegies forever. Not to mention the ongoing fatigue and tiredness some people face when eliminating carbs completely. This is usually due to the minimal energy stores (glycogen) available and the slow release of glucose from other energy sources like protein and fats.
So after digesting all that, you might be thinking it’s not that hard to control your carb intake and swap bad for good carbs… and you’re right. It’s a diet and lifestyle change many people have adapted to (including myself for the past year) without too much difficulty and the results are always positive (usually a decrease in body fat percentage).
Personally, I still have a good dose of clean carbs in the morning and midday, but definitely cut back towards night time and every other opportunity. I’ve stuck to this for the past year and have stayed the same weight whilst building more lean muscle mass and stripping body fat.
I like to promote the healthier lifestyle to those around me so one recent real life case study of this diet was actually on my partner who wanted to shed some kilos:
Generally speaking I think females have a harder time controlling weight as they usually (using that VERY loosely) don’t incorporate weight training into their gym workouts. So I knew if this was going to be a successful adventure, I’d have to tackle the diet first and foremost. None of those pricey or fad diet programs (Lite ‘n’ Easy or Lemon Detox anyone?), just simple food alternatives in her diet.
Knowing what works for me, I substituted many of her bad carb foods for the good carb stuff for nearly all days of the week and the results over a few months so far have been good. She has lost a few kilos and some body fat around the stubborn areas, pretty good considering nothing else has changed except for her diet. Now that she is informed, knows what works for her and can see the improvements, hopefully it will seamlessly merge into her lifestyle and she can keep up the healthy eating habits for long term too!
Now then don’t go all crazy whack at once changing your eating habits or subscribing to a high protein-low carb diet programme (do you really want to be eating protein bars and shakes every meal of the day…forever?). You can always just slowly transition into different types of foods while cutting back on others (some tips in my Food Substitution article).
Everyone has different goals and lifestyles but hopefully after reading this article you are more conscious about food choices and can make more informed decisions on what you eat; it’s all about finding something sustainable and that works for you. After all, having high body fat is not just bad on your image but also your overall health.
So next time you’re at the family dinner, hold back on that mountain of creamy yet fluffy mash or that extra bowl of white rice and eat more of the meat and veggies instead. Perhaps starting tomorrow when you’re at the sandwich shop, ask for brown bread instead. And if you’re daring, hold back on that extra beer or ask for a low carb version. It’s all about knowledge and progression – go forth and take control.
Did you find this article informative? Have you reduced your carb intake? What were your results? Feel free to discuss/comment below!