When Carbs Go Wrong
I’ve talked quite a bit about carbohydrate intake and the most common misconceptions surrounding this particular food group. Yet, there still seems to be confusion and mis-inforamtion, which is no surprising as it is often one of the most asked questions I get and something that almost always rears its head on coaching calls.
What I see is people completely giving up carbs, losing a bunch of ‘weight’ (when in fact it’s water weight predominantly) and then putting all of the weight back on again when they re-introduce them because they have not understood the process of leaning out.
So today I’ll discuss when you SHOULD be worried about carbs, and when you shouldn't. Especially if your goal is to become a strong and lean athlete (which I hope that it is, because it’s awesome!)
Do the carbs I consume get stored as fat?
There are two ways that carbs interact with body fat. The first is via insulin which I’ll explain now.
Go here to read more on the topicInsulin is released into the blood stream as a safety mechanism to prevent disease states like hyperglycemia happening, and thus the onset of things like Type II Diabetes. .
When insulin is released, a metaphorical lever in your body changes from burning fat for energy to burning carbs. Insulin thus plays an indirect part in hindering the release of stored body fat to be used for energy as it needs to concentrate on keeping your arterial walls happy, by keeping a high amount of glucose out of your blood stream.
If you eat a meal of potatoes and olives which is a mixture of carbs and fats, the glucose from the potato will be prioritised first before the olives are able to get a look in.
Insulin is not good or bad. Insulin is insulin. You need it to survive. Therefore it doesn’t mean that insulin is stopping you from losing fat stores; it’s simply prioritising other more important things, i.e. blood sugar control.
When carbs go wrong
The second way that carbs will interact with body fat is when carbs are literally stored as fat in fat cells, known as the process of de novo lipogensis (which literally creation of fat from non-fat sources). But this process is very expensive and inefficient for the body to do aos it pretty much sucks as a method of glucose converting to fat.
All of this sounds very fancy and scientific, so I’ll throw at you two scenarios.
The first one I want you to imagine person A who has just woken up, got dressed, had a nice omelet on toast for breakfast, packed their prepped lunch of chicken fajitas and heads out the door to drive off to work.
Other than the occasional cup of tea, office banter, and the usual discussion about the best way to fix the countries politics, they enjoy their prepared lunch, and head out the door at 5:00 pm straight to the gym
They have a sound workout and then come home for dinner. On the menu tonight is a nice steak with some home-made sweet potato fries and vegetables. Delicious.
The following day, person A jumps on the scales and sees that they have lost another 1lb. That’s 4lbs in 4 weeks now. There is much rejoicing.
Person B and their story goes a little differently. They wake up, head for breakfast and have the biggest bowl of cereal you’ve ever seen. They need to be big because for some reason you can’t seem to get past 10:30 am without the dreaded desire to hit the biscuit.
So low and behold, when they get into work, that’s exactly what happens. Tea anyone? Yep okay, and 5 digestive biscuits.
Next is lunch, and that’s a meal deal from Tesco with a big bottle of Coke.
The other thing? It’s Friday, which means that everyone's a bit more chill in the office and John has decided to make the cake and cookie run for everyone.
Person B decides that they had quite a few treats this morning, so decides to have small slither of cake and only one cookie.
They leave the office at :00 pm and head straight home. It’s pizza night, which they demolish and then head to bed.
Person B wakes up the next morning, has a look in the mirror and realises that something needs to change.
I’ll get rid of the carbs… they are causing me to look and feel miserable!
Remove the dichotomy
Person B identified carbs as their problem. But if you look carefully both diets were full of them.
The problem is with the second persons energy balance. They are consuming too many calories and not expending the necessary energy in order to facilitate a positive energy balance.
You could replace the cakes, and cookies and the diet above with fruit and veg. If they still ate above maintenance they’ll gain weight.
Which leads me to personally believe that carbs are dangerous when:
You eat too many relative to your required energy balance
You lead a very sedentary life and have a terrible relationship with blood sugar control.
Carbs can go wrong if you are unaware of your total daily energy intake. Absolutely carbs have caused you to look terrible in the mirror because you’ve eaten too many of them!
We explain how best to structure your carbohydrate intake in our online course. But you need to ensure that whatever your intake, that the carbs you are eating are not in-excess of your total daily energy allowance.
They also go wrong if you are, for the most part, a sedentary individual who lacks in sufficient exercise. Your issue is that you have a hard time keeping your blood sugar under control, which causes a surge of energy followed by a plummet of focus.
This is why we recommend you to have a meal made of the three macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat) as opposed to shoveling a juicy bowl of Cornflakes down you first thing which could result in a big crash 60-90 minutes later,
So ensure that your calories are in order, your meals look like a meal and not a bowl of sugar and you’ll be much better off!