Can you eat carbohydrates without getting fat?

 

 



carbohydrate-addiction

 

 

 

Today, I want to talk to you about a word that strikes fear into more people these days than death or public speaking (not sure if it's a fact though).

 

It was the darling of the healthy eating movement not that long ago but today is vilified by so called experts, gurus and fitness fanatics as though as it was the food of good old Lucifer himself.

 

Yup, I am talking about the Carbohydrate (don't scream!)

 

Carbohydrates are getting a really bad reputation these days as the reason why everyone is getting fat and I wanted to shed some light onto the debate with my own personal opinions and observations.

 

As you're aware, I am very much into Martial Arts which stem from the east. Being of Indian descent myself, our diet is rich in carbohydrates as is the diets of China, Japan and other far eastern countries and when I seriously decided that I wanted to be lean and shredded, one of the decisions I made was to go to Thailand and train with the Thais because every single Thai Boxer from Thailand that I saw had shredded abs, amazing calf muscles and had mad ninja (well not quite ninja but thai boxing) Skills!

 

I have been to Thailand to train twice now. Once when I was 21 and once when I was 24. On my second trip though, I was more versed in nutrition and sports science than the first trip. I knew about the theoretical danger of carbohydrates and their link to obesity but what struck me was how all these ripped muscular fighters would eat tonnes and tonnes of rice! In fact, most of the locals did too and far eastern countries such as Thailand, China and Japan have lower obesity rates and cases of chronic heard disease than us westerners yet they eat so much rice!?

 

If you're a paleovangelist, Your mind must be going into over drive right now.

 

But here's the problem. The fitness industry is kind of guilty for pigeon holing everyone into one group yet we all have different bodies and different ways in which we use them.

 

I might be more carbohydrate sensitive than you meaning I may not be able to tolerate carbohydrates as well as you so it all boils down to finding out what works for you.

 

But how do you do that?

 

Well, before we go into that, Let's quickly go over the role of carbohydrates and why they get such a bad rap.

 

Carbohydrates are the sugar molecules found in food. Simple carbohydrates (simple sugars) are made up of short chains of sugar molecules (one or two chains) and complex carbohydrates and starches are made of many chains of sugar molecules. When they are ingested, the body breaks them down back into their simplest form, glucose, a form of sugar.

 

The glucose is then converted into a storable form of energy called Glycogen which is stored in your muscle via your blood stream. The sugars that enter the blood need to be regulated by a hormone called insulin and here's where the problem starts. Insulin provides a job at regulating blood sugar levels (Because too much sugar in the blood can be fatal). Depending on the type of carbohydrate you eat will determine how much insulin is released. Something like white bread or sugar will create a high surge in insulin whilst something like a sweet potato or oats will have a relatively lower insulin response (If you're interested in knowing which foods are higher than others, look into something called the Glycemic Index)

When Insulin is present in the blood stream the body can not metabolise fat therefore insulin promotes fat storage and that's why they get such bad press. Simply put. Insulin makes you fat… Well, that's not entirely true. Whilst insulin promotes fat storage, it also promotes protein synthesis which is important when you want your muscles to grow.

The key is knowing when you want the insulin spikes and it's usually after you work out so that the protein you eat goes to work on helping repair and create more muscle and this is why it is recommended that post workout you should follow your workout with a protein and carbohydrate meal (typically some form of post workout shake including protein and a carbohydrate that creates an insulin spike such as glucose or dextrose, however, it is not necessary for one to have a post workout shake and a protein shake with some fruit would suffice)

 

And whilst we're talking about protein and fat meals, I'd just like to interject that many years ago, I conducted various experiments with my body to find which diet worked for me. I did a high carb, high protein low fat diet. I did the body for life 40-40-20 diet, I did an intermittent fasting diet (Back before it was cool and anyone had even heard of it, it was called the “Warrior diet” back then) and even a ketogenic diet. All had their plus points and their minus points but the one diet that I found that served me incredibly well was one that was promoted by Dr John Berardi who I considder to be one of the leading experts in sports nutrition and eating for performance. It was from his revised article for Testosterone Magazine entitled “appetite for construction” and the “Cheaters diet” which was then turned into the clean cheat diet but the gist of it was, You can eat fat, protein and carbohydrates but never a high fat meal with a high carbohydrate meal and protein at each meal.


So, each meal would either be a PC meal (Protein and carbs) or a PF meal (Protein and Fat), this supports the fact that when insulin is released, your body can't metabolise fat and stores it instead and I still stick to this style of eating today, hey, I eat carbohydrates baby and I eat rice and I'm usually around 8% bodyfat.

 

So, back to what happens to carbohydrates. Well, like I said, they're broken down and stored as glycogen in your muscle tissue. Your muscle can only hold so much glycogen (the more lean muscle mass you have, the more theoretical glycogen you can store – another important reason to lift weights). Any spill over is stored in the liver as liver glycogen. Liver glycogen is prone to being turned into fat (a process known as De Novo Lipogenesis if you really want to know).

 

The body utilises the glycogen in your muscle for energy, especially during bouts of high level exertion or anaerobic exercise (For example sprinting or heavy weight lifting etc).

 

So it's okay to eat carbohydrates?

 

The answer to this question really is “It depends”. Are you looking at doing a ketogenic diet where your carbohydrates are really low? (Not something I recommend) or do you just want to lower your overall carbohydrate intake? (Which is probably the better route) in which case, having 100-200 grams of carbohydrates wouldn't be a majorly bad thing providing you were getting the bulk of those carbohydrates from non starchy sources such as vegetables (If you're reading this and a fan of paleo diets, you're back with me now!)

 

But what about starches? Well they certainly play their part. The trouble with most starches in society today is they come along with pathogens and other not so nice things. The biggest one of them at the moment is Gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat based foods and not only is it a pathogen, it can cause serious problems to people who suffer from coeliac disease and as a result, the whole “gluten free” movement has taken off. But that being said, starchy carbohydrates can play a part in your diet providing you still get a fair amount of your carbohydrates from non starchy sources such as vegetables (Though you'll need to eat a lot of veggies for that) and if your caloric and carbohydrate needs are high, such as an athlete, regular exerciser or indeed, a Muay Thai fighter training 8 hours a day, then starchy carbohydrates offer a dense source for you.

 

The key when deciding how many carbohydrates you need to eat then are how active you are or will be that day. If you're not a regular exerciser, athlete or someone who works on a farm all day or does similar manual labour, your carbohydrate requirements will be lower and as a result, you'll find that a diet high in carbohydrates, especially starchy carbohydrates, does pose a risk of weight gain, in particular fat gain.

 

I therefore use the “Earn your carbs” rule (another one of Dr John Berardi's principles) with my clients and readers. If you want to eat starchy carbs, earn them through exercise and moderate-high intensity activities.

Another question you can ask yourself when deciding whether you should eat carbohydrates is, “Have I worked out in the past 2 hours” or “Am I going to be working out in the next 2 hours” – If the answer to either of these is a yes, then a portion of carbohydrates will do more harm then good (unless you're on a strict ketogenic diet and eating carbohydrates would effectively knock you out of a state of ketosis)

 

So there you have it, my take on carbohydrates is pretty much one that boils down to doing what works for you. As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat and finding what works for you is the most important thing. There's no one size fits all way no matter what the fitness industry tries to pressure you into thinking.  

 

The body utilises the glycogen in your muscle for energy, especially during bouts of high level exertion or anaerobic exercise (For example sprinting or heavy weight lifting etc).

 

So it's okay to eat carbohydrates?

 

The answer to this question really is “It depends”. Are you looking at doing a ketogenic diet where your carbohydrates are really low? (Not something I recommend) or do you just want to lower your overall carbohydrate intake? (Which is probably the better route) in which case, having 100-200 grams of carbohydrates wouldn't be a majorly bad thing providing you were getting the bulk of those carbohydrates from non starchy sources such as vegetables (If you're reading this and a fan of paleo diets, you're back with me now!)

 

But what about starches? Well they certainly play their part. The trouble with most starches in society today is they come along with pathogens and other not so nice things. The biggest one of them at the moment is Gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat based foods and not only is it a pathogen, it can cause serious problems to people who suffer from coeliac disease and as a result, the whole “gluten free” movement has taken off. But that being said, starchy carbohydrates can play a part in your diet providing you still get a fair amount of your carbohydrates from non starchy sources such as vegetables (Though you'll need to eat a lot of veggies for that) and if your caloric and carbohydrate needs are high, such as an athlete, regular exerciser or indeed, a Muay Thai fighter training 8 hours a day, then starchy carbohydrates offer a dense source for you.

 

The key when deciding how many carbohydrates you need to eat then are how active you are or will be that day. If you're not a regular exerciser, athlete or someone who works on a farm all day or does similar manual labour, your carbohydrate requirements will be lower and as a result, you'll find that a diet high in carbohydrates, especially starchy carbohydrates, does pose a risk of weight gain, in particular fat gain.

 

I therefore use the “Earn your carbs” rule (another one of Dr John Berardi's principles) with my clients and readers. If you want to eat starchy carbs, earn them through exercise and moderate-high intensity activities.

Another question you can ask yourself when deciding whether you should eat carbohydrates is, “Have I worked out in the past 2 hours” or “Am I going to be working out in the next 2 hours” – If the answer to either of these is a yes, then a portion of carbohydrates will do more harm then good (unless you're on a strict ketogenic diet and eating carbohydrates would effectively knock you out of a state of ketosis)

 

So there you have it, my take on carbohydrates is pretty much one that boils down to doing what works for you. As the old saying goes, there's more than one way to skin a cat and finding what works for you is the most important thing. There's no one size fits all way no matter what the fitness industry tries to pressure you into thinking.

 

 


 

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