Nutrition, Wellness

What carbs do for you


Carbohydrates are remarkable. They provide the human body with fiber, glycogen and loads of micronutrients. Yet many people still deem them to be the evil culprit of their health and weight issues. The low-carb craze may not be as intense as it once was, but it’s still going strong and it tends to be the first thing dieters drop when embarking on a weight loss program. If this really was the most effective way to release the extra weight for good, then why is it that the weight keeps creeping back up?

Let me start by sharing the most important thing that you need to know about carbohydrates: the body cannot metabolize fats without the presence of carbohydrates. Without sufficient carbs in the body (stored as muscle glycogen) your body will burn its protein stores instead of fat causing you to eventually lose muscle. Whatever drop you may see on the scale is most likely coming from muscle loss. So if you put yourself into a calorie deficit by dropping carbs, your body will eventually plateau and halt fat loss and start using its protein as energy. This is a big no-no for pretty much everyone, or at least anyone who wants to be lean and fit with a nice bod.

Another key benefit of this macronutrient is that it is essential for proper brain function in that it provides fuel to the central nervous system. It helps to regulate your mood and energy levels; if you’ve ever gone low carb before then you know what I’m talking about here. A diet low in carbohydrates leads to greater instances of depression, anger and anxiety than a diet higher in carbohydrates. For more info , check out this article that showcases the impact that carbohydrates play in mental health and well-being.

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy and it is the first thing that you will burn up in the form of calories, whatever is leftover gets stored in the body as glycogen (for future use as fuel). The main concern with carbohydrates though, is what’s called a spillover. This occurs when you take in excess carbs to the point where your muscle glycogen stores are filled to capacity and your body has no choice but to store the extra amount as bodyfat. This is where the weight gain occurs. Years ago when the low-carb craze hit, people lost a ton weight mostly because they dropped their overall calories, cut out junk food and probably threw in some exercise, not just because they dropped the carbs.

Nowadays things have started to get better with most health experts confirming that everyone should be getting about 50% of their overall calories from carbohydrates. The key thing is to focus on complex carbs that provide loads of fiber, vitamins and minerals. These are slow digesting, keep you full and rid your body of toxins and waste. Eat lots of veg and not just the green stuff, but of all colours, add in some whole grains and starches like millet and sweet potatoes, and have a fruit if you wish (I hate fruit, so that’s out for me, but I eat lots of vegetables and whole grains to make up for it).

You might be hearing a lot about the keto diet and others of a similar nature, but proceed with caution here. These are all super low-carb and high fat (60-80% overall calories coming from fat!). Some people swear by it, but at least talk to your doctor before trying, to be on the safe side. Keep in mind here that women tend to do better on a higher carb and low fat diet as opposed to men who can handle the extra fat with not as many carbs. Also the term ketogenic stems from ketosis which really makes you feel like crap. Your energy levels can drop drastically making exercise and building lean muscle nearly impossible and one of the main side effects is that you end up kinda smelly especially with bad breadth, so you know, just FYI. Do your research first before getting started, to see if it’s really your best option.

I can say that from my own experience, low-carb just didn’t work especially in the long run. I remember in the early 2000s when it was everywhere and I tried it, but it just didn’t last and I felt hungry all the time. Then in 2016 when I competed in my first show my coach had me go low-carb and it was rough. Sheer will was what got me through it, but I was hungry and tired and I wound up looking deflated and flat on stage. But for my last show we instead opted to keep the carbs high throughout at 50% and dropped my fat intake. I looked fuller, well rounded and had a much nicer shape and overall appearance. Not to mention that my prep felt like a total breeze.

The moral of the story here is to never cut out or drastically reduce an entire macronutrient altogether, but to instead get a good amount of each. Cook your own food instead of relying on the prepackaged stuff and eat lots of produce and whole grains and maybe consider reducing the amount of animal based foods that you consume too. With that alone you will see a drastic change to your body composition and overall health. This is the one body that you have so always make it your top priority by feeding it with the healthiest fuel every day.


The One Size Fits All Diet


If only there was one diet that every single person could follow. If only this diet was equally effective for everyone in helping lose weight and keep it off for good. Think about how much easier life would be if that were the case; all of the confusion over eating right and how much would no longer exist. Ultimately it would render the bombardement of marketing schemes obsolete and take out all of the guess work for each person when it comes to nutrition. Unfortunately that’s not the case.

Have you ever noticed that one person may follow aa diet plan and see amazing results while another will follow it exactly the same way, but instead will make hardly any progress? It’s very common. Why? Let me count the ways…

There are so many different factors to take into consideration when it comes to diet and nutrition. You’ve got the standard items like age, current weight and body composition, level of activity and training age (the number of years a person has been consistently exercising), and gender. Then there’s the more specific things like genetics, pre-existing health issues, current lifestyle (for example having a sedentary job or more manual labour), stress levels and adequate sleep acquired on the average night. All of these things play a key role in whether or not a diet plan will work for you.

A prime example of this is when a friend of mine mentioned that she and her husband were going to follow a 30 day diet plan. This particular plan emphasized eating “real food” only with a focus on organic foods including meat, fish, nuts, oils, vegetables and fruits. At the same time it also requires that you do not eat any legumes (like beans or peanuts), grains (even whole grains), any kind of sweetener, dairy or sulphites. What’s more is that it also bans any kind of sweet treat items even if it contains “approved ingredients” only in order to get you out the dessert mindset. Many of the suggested recipes included a high portion of protein along with a high level of fat accompanied with vegetables. Starch-wise your only option is the starchy vegetable such as potato, sweet potato or carrots. Now in theory this diet plan sounds solid as you are eating foods close to their natural state and avoiding things that may cause allergies or sensitivities.

So my friend and her husband embarked on this 30 day plan and followed it to a T while trying many of the suggested recipes along the way. Her husband did great; he lost weight and was no longer bloated, he had great energy each day and never had any cravings. My friend however had the exact opposite experience. She gained weight, felt bloated all of the time and had very low energy, even though her portion sizes were in check. After 11 days, she had had enough and went back to her previous nutrition plan which had worked very well for her in the past. This plan was lower in fat and allowed whole grains along with healthy treat meals. Not only did she find herself feeling way better and less bloated, but within a few days she was well on her back towards her weight loss goals.

I can also definitely attest to the no one size fits all diet solution. I’ve tried everything from portion control, to calories counting, to IIFYM, to low carb and ketogenic. Well, none of them worked…that’s not entirely true. Some worked, but all were very short term solutions and none of them did anything to improve my body composition. These diets all pretty much left me skinnyfat. What does work for me and what has helped me to get lean, strong and build muscle is a low-fat plant based diet with at least half of my total calories coming from complex carbohydrates including whole grains. Keep in mind though that by low-fat I mean no more than 40-50 grams total per day including those found naturally in food like tofu and tempeh. Anytime that I have deviated from this in anyway, I have always experienced fat gain, bloating and indigestion whether in contest prep or not.

Now what works for me may not work for you, that’s for sure. The best thing to do if you are confused about what’s right for you is start by cutting out added sugar and artificial sweeteners. Then look at any food that may give you an upset tummy or heartburn, try to gradually reduce your intake of this and replace it with a healthy alternative. Overall though, be sure to keep all meals well balanced with all 3 macros while taking into account the naturally occurring sources of fat found in your protein and naturally occurring carbohydrates and sugars found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains. Don’t ever be fooled by prepackaged snack items. they always contain too much fat, carbs and sugar without enough protein. Even if these items are marketed as healthy take a look at the ingredients, nutritional info and serving size. If you’re still confused or are eating clean/balanced but aren’t experiencing any progress then keep a food journal for at least a week, writing down everything that you eat, drink and how much, and then calculate the macros for each day and nutritional value of your meals. It may indicate some unbalanced eating on your part. I did this exercise a couple years back and my nutrition was way off; too much fat, not enough protein.

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out how to nourish yourself so don’t put too much pressure on getting it right from the beginning. Seek out help from a nutritionist or dietician to maybe help shed a little light on what you can do and what you want to do for the long haul. Focus on your health first and creating a nutritional way of life that you can easily incorporate into your everyday.

Start Strong, Finish Strong