4 Reasons to Eat Carbs
Everything is cyclical in the nutrition world. What once was taboo is now awesome. Case in point: eating carbs. Thirty years ago, we were told that carbohydrates were the good guys. The US government even got involved; instructing us that over half of our calories should come from grains and fruit. Fast forward to current times and people believe that the slightest whiff of freshly baked bread will make their waistline balloon up.
I’m going to kick this discussion off by bursting your bubble: carbs aren’t making you gain weight. Well, the right carbs aren’t responsible, that’s for sure. No matter what camp keto says, bananas and potatoes are not the culprits in our current obesity epidemic. Case in point: 93% of Americans fail to get ½ cup of whole grains per day. On the flip side of that, Americans consume, on average, a full cup of refined grains a day. So think crackers, pretzels, baked good and all the other stuff you would use to feed the masses at a kids birthday party.
Since people tend to fluctuate on extremes, stuffing yourself full of rice isn’t the way to go either. Carb intake will vary based on age, body size, training age, and training volume. Volume refers to the amount of work you do: so a runner who gets in 60 miles a week will need far more carbohydrates than someone who likes to jog twice a week. I’m not advocating that we should follow those outdated government guidelines either.
With that being said, there’s going to be a middle ground somewhere for you. Call it your “carb sweet spot.” Before you clear you cabinets of all that long grain rice, here are 4 reasons why you should still eat (some) carbs.
1. They help balance out cortisol. In times of stress, the body elevates a hormone called cortisol. While this isn’t always a bad thing, too much cortisol too often can really spell trouble for you. This is especially true if your goal is to lose some pounds, since this hormone can put the brakes on your body’s ability to burn fat.. Cortisol is generally high after a workout and a post-workout meal of protein and carbohydrates can help lower those stress hormones rather quickly.
It’s also possible that following an extremely low carb diet can cause low blood sugar levels. In an attempt to raise blood sugar levels, the body releases more cortisol. Remember, more cortisol means less of a chance to lose weight.
2. Carbs replenish muscle glycogen. Muscle glycogen is stored energy. When you eat things like potatoes, rice, and oats, those carbs get stored in the muscle to be used when you exercise. For those of you who sprint, squat, and bench, you’ll burn up a lot of your stored energy pretty quickly. In fact, just 20 minutes of interval training can deplete your stored energy by 40% (1).
Training at a high level and then constantly working out puts a huge stress on the body. It’s unlikely you’ll build the body of your dreams using this strategy. However, not everyone does well with a lot of carbs. If this is you, it’s just best to limit your carb intake to your first meal after your workout.
3. They provide fiber. Us Americans are suffering from a fiber crisis. It’s recommended that we get at least 25 grams of fiber a day; and in ten years of being a personal trainer, I’ve only ran into 3 clients who consumed more than 20. A lot of people argue that you can just use supplemental fiber, but nature has a funny way of doing things. Foods contain other things besides just carbs; like fiber, vitamins and minerals. These things work in conjunction with each other and just provide a better bang for your buck.
Bailing on whole grains, like oatmeal for instance, can really limit your fiber intake. A low fiber intake affects digestion and can even lead to things like cancer and heart disease.
4. They can help you lose weight. A steady diet of whole food carb sources can keep your thyroid hormone hard at work. You have two main forms of thyroid hormone, with one being more potent than the other. The thyroid gland itself releases the less potent version with the conversion to the stronger hormone taking place in your body. Avoiding carbs all together can hinder this process.
You also need a calorie deficit to lose weight, and you certainly don’t want to cut those calories out from your protein intake. Carbs are the easiest food source to add or subtract when it comes to changing your body composition.
There you go – four solid reasons to make sure you eat carbs. Do you still think they’re so bad?
1. Rankin, J.W. “Dietary Carbohydrate and Performance of Brief, Intense Exercise.” (2000) Sports Science Exchange 13,4. 79-82