In a previous article here on BroBible, I talked about the importance of counting your macronutrients if you want to burn fat and build muscle. In the first installment of this series we talked about the importance of protein and how it can help you reach your goals. In today’s article, we are going to be discussing carbs…
Carbohydrates have taken a beating in recent years. They have been blamed for everything from the obesity epidemic to Justin Bieber (well maybe not that last one).
When it comes to fat loss, low-carb diets have been touted as the holy grail for dropping body fat. Cut out carbs and BOOM, instant fat loss! But the problem is, carbohydrates actually provide our body with a ton of benefits.
Carbs provide the body with the same amount of energy as protein at 4 calories per gram, but perform very different functions.
When broken down in the body, carbs are converted to glycogen, and stored in the muscles, liver and brain. These stores help fuel the muscles for physical activity and help aid in brain function. In fact, if you are regularly performing strength training activities like we recommend here at BroBible, then your body needs carbs that much more.
There are three types of carbohydrates:
Fibrous Carbs: Otherwise known as vegetables (heard of them?), fibrous carbs are the form of carbs you can really eat as much of as you want and not adversely affect your fat loss. These include foods like broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, peppers, cucumber, and zucchini, among others.
Because these veggies are so high in fiber, their calorie content is very low. This means that you can eat a lot…and I mean a lot…of these and you wont be taking in that many calories. The high fiber content also means that they are digested much slower than other forms of carbs, meaning they will keep you fuller longer.
Simple Carbs: These are the type of carbs that are often referred to as “bad”. Simple carbs are highly processed and really don’t even resemble food. They often come in the form of table sugar, white flour, and syrups…in other words, the stuff that makes up some of the tastiest foods out there.
Simple carbs are broken down by the body much faster than other forms of carbs, leading to spikes in insulin. And while insulin is actually good, helping shuttle nutrients to the muscles; chronically elevated levels of insulin will cause you to become insulin resistant. This means your body becomes less efficient at getting the food you eat where it needs to go and can lead to more fat storage.
So while limiting your consumption of ice cream, cake, cookies, chips, and beer is a good idea, you don’t need to eliminate them completely. Any good diet plan will allow you to occasionally indulge in your favorite foods, just not every day.
Complex Carbs: These are carbohydrates that are less processed, meaning they are closer to their original form. They include foods like fruits, potatoes, rice, oats, etc. Unlike simple carbs, complex carbs are broken down much slower by the body, leading to fewer insulin spikes.
Another way to classify simple and complex carbs is by using the glycemic index. The GI scores foods by how much they raise blood sugar levels. Complex carbs typically score low on the GI, while simple carbs score high. Foods that fall in the middle are ones like whole wheat breads and pastas that are processed but still retain some of their original properties.
While it is probably a good idea that most of your carbs come from complex, lower GI sources, don’t think that exclusively eating these is the key to fat loss. If you only need 2,000 calories a day but you’re eating 3,000, it doesn’t matter if it’s coming from cookies and beer or rice and bananas, you will not lose fat.
If you’re going to consume carbs, the best place to get them is going to be from fruits and veggies. Not only are these about as whole and unprocessed as you can find when it comes to carbs, they are also very high in fiber. And as we know fiber = good.
After that, your next best sources are going to be things like rice (brown and white), potatoes (white and sweet), oats, and quinoa. Things like whole wheat breads, tortillas, and the like are fine too, but should not make up as much of your diet as the sources above.
The one thing that all these sources have in common is that they are all either unprocessed or minimally processed; meaning they are in or close to their natural form. These are the foods that should make up at least 90% of your carb intake.
Processed carbohydrates, like cereals, white breads, pop tarts, chips, ice cream, etc, all have a place in your diet. I mean, if you enjoy those things, it would be pretty miserable if you had to cut them out right?
But their place is small…like a once or twice a week thing, not every day. And you still need to make them fit your macros.
Finally, there are the hybrid carbs: things like yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk, that in addition to carbs, contain a good amount of protein as well. Since they are higher in carbs however, that is where we classify them.
So now, if anyone ever tells you that you NEED to cut out carbs to lose weight, walk away, because they are full of it. No, carbs are not as essential as protein but they are not without their benefits, especially if you’re very active. And they certainly are not the cause of fat gain.
In the next installment of the Know Your Macros series, we are going to talk about fats.