Good carbs, bad carbs, low carb diets, the glycemic index, ketogenic - it seems as though the battle for the ultimate answer regarding carbohydrates in the diet is never ending. It is probably one of the most controversial macronutrients in the "diet" industry today.
So what's the deal with carbohydrates, really? Are they necessary? Are they good for you? Do they make you fat? Although the answers to these questions can be very individual, we're going to give you an overview of what carbohydrates do for you and how to implement them into your daily food regimen in a healthy way. Carbohydrates are our body's main source of energy. When we eat carbs they are broken down into glucose (sugar) and either used for energy immediately, stored as glycogen for later use in the liver and muscles, or stored as fat if all glycogen stores are full. There are different categories of carbs, simple and complex, which is where the "good carb, bad carb" phenomenon came from.
Carbohydrates may be categorized into two groups based on how fast they digest and absorb into your blood stream based on their structure. Simple carbs are foods that break down fast, such as sugar, white flour, crackers and other processed snack foods. Complex carbs are foods like potatoes, oats, brown rice, beans, fruits, and vegetables (think back to clean eating). These types of carbs often contain a higher nutritional value, more fiber, and give you long lasting energy because they break down more slowly.
These are the types of carbs we want in our diet the most.
Our bodies handle carbohydrates best after exercise as they will immediately be used to replace the glycogen used during your workout. They also will help repair muscle and aid in protein synthesis. For these reasons the best times to incorporate starchy complex carbs, such as rice, oats, and potatoes, is around your workouts. More fiberous carbs such as fruits and vegetables should be included in most meals throughout the day with more emphasis on vegetables, especially if fat loss is of interest.
Although carbohydrates are technically not essential, meaning our bodies can produce glucose from other food sources and processes, cutting them out of your diet completely may not be the best idea.
Yes, eliminating carbs will produce a quick drop in body weight, but it is important to remember that most of that weight is actually water, not fat. You should also ask yourself when making any decision with the intent to lose weight, "is this something I can maintain long term?" If the answer is no, then you must prepare yourself for the results you achieve to also be temporary.
Balance is key. Carbs are not bad - they contain many essential vitamins and minerals, can help you build muscle, lose fat, have great workouts, and enjoy your food. Just be sure to always eat them with protein and vegetables for blood sugar balance, choose whole grains, and be aware of portion sizes. One fist size for women, two for men.
Lia Taylor and Dan Colegrove are certified fitness trainers who can be reached at The Manchester Gym; 802-768-9700.