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.